Writer: Mariajose de Jesús Castillo Cervantes
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer: Nasya Nethania
The understanding of the diversity that exists in the world has broken down large barriers of exclusion over the course of history. Despite this, to this day many cultures and ethnicities have struggled to understand the differences in characteristics, needs and abilities of various ethnicities. In the history of many sports such as horse riding, hockey, and swimming, the inclusion of people of color in participating professionally has not always been allowed, causing much of the sports equipment to be designed for white people's characteristics. Today, as society has progressed, we see people of all ethnicities in most sports, but not sports equipment that embraces the different characteristics of all ethnicities.
Recently, the Tokyo 2021 Olympics committee has been faced with several diversity issues which it has not handled correctly, and people of color have been the most affected.
Banned Swimming Caps
One of the biggest conflicts black people face is the lack of gear they need in Olympic sports. Much of the gear required for certain sports is designed for white people, who clearly have different characteristics compared to African Americans, namely their hair.
One of the sports that, for many years, has been dominated by white people is swimming. In this sport, swimming caps are often needed. However, since the beginning of time, swimming caps have always been designed for only one type of hair, thus becoming a serious problem.
Recently, a company called "Soul Cap" designed different caps for swimmers with "thick, curly and voluminous" hair. This company thought about the difficulties that black athletes face when swimming because they often have very different hair characteristics from most white athletes. These caps were presented to FINA, the international federation for competitive swimming, to break this racial barrier and give each athlete the perfect gear to compete. Unfortunately, FINA did not approve the caps, with the argument that "they did not follow the natural shape of the head". Taryn Finley, editor of HuffPost Black Voices, wrote: “it’s dehumanizing that Black swimmers can’t race in caps that actually fit over their hair because a white-run organization said their head isn’t ‘the natural form’.” We can see that to this day, the lack of inclusion towards people of color and the lack of understanding of diversity of people around the world still exists, and it makes the fight for equality more difficult for people of color. Not accepting accessories designed especially for different types of people and communities so that they may practice sports with less difficulties is a clear example that big companies, those running Olympics included, continue to have racist ideologies.
At the beginning of July, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that “21-year-old Sha’Carri Richardson will be placed on a 30-day suspension after she tested positive for THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.” This means that Sha’Carri will not be able to compete in the 100-meter track and field race, which she had previously dominated by breaking the record. On the Today show, the athlete said that she ingested recreational weed after hearing the news that her mother had passed away. In a state of shock and overwhelming emotions, she ingested weed due to knowing that she still had to go out and compete, but was in a very difficult position to do so. The 30-day suspension of the athlete is questionable, since weed is legal for recreational use in 18 states, and medicinal use in 36 states.
Sha'Carri Richardson - Patrick Smith/Getty Images
But the suspension of Sha'Carri Richardson is not the first to happen to a black woman in the history of the Olympics, nor the only one to occur at the Tokyo Olympics. Two more black athletes, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi of Namibia, “were withdrawn Friday from the 400-meter race as the World Athletics governing body deemed them ineligible for the women’s competition for having a “naturally high testosterone level’”, according to the Namibia Olympic Committee. They were suspended just after Mboma beat a world record and scored the seventh fastest time ever recorded by a woman in the 400-meter race, and Masilingi obtained the third-fastest time record this year.
But when was a testosterone level rule created, and why? At the 2009 Olympics, Caster Semenya won a gold medal in the 800m race. She ran with such an outstanding velocity that she was misgendered. After the race, Semenya, who had lived all her life as a female, was questioned why she could run so fast. Rumors circulated about her being a man and that she won because she cheated. The athlete was put through multiple “gender” tests, such as gender investigation with an endocrinologist, a gynecologist, and a psychologist. All the spotlight that the athlete had won by being the best runner in her category had been taken away from her because of racial and gender inequality. After the outstanding performance of Semenya at the 2009 Olympics, the testosterone level rule was created and the battle that she had to go through is now the same battle Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi are going through.
Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi
It is ironic that an event based on bringing all people together to celebrate different types of sports in a healthy way is being exclusive of different ethnicities and genders. How can the Olympics make use of the slogan "Know the differences, show the differences" if it does not bother to take the necessary measures that allow all athletes to compete without their physical or biological characteristics being an impediment? It is important to highlight the injustices that continue to occur to this day in world events, such as the Olympics, in order to speak out and take action against it, in order to create full inclusion and to remove gender and racial barriers and prejudices.