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  • Writer's pictureAditi Karanam

The Race Factor in an Olympic Race

TW: Mentions of racism, discrimination, trans-misogyny, and sexual assault

Years of blood, sweat, and tears. Tireless and consistent practice. This is what lands an athlete at the Olympics. The Olympics are more than a set of games: they are a feat of a country’s sports temper. Winning an Olympic game is considered the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. But despite its reputation as the most prestigious competition⏤one which aims to build a society that is racially, socially, and economically just⏤the Olympics has often missed the mark.

In the world of sports, women of colour are treated differently from their non-coloured and/or male counterparts more often than not. Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medal gymnast, agreed that "it happens every day, and I feel like every Black athlete or coloured athlete can say that they've experienced it through their career”.

Several instances of discrimination have taken place recently. For example, Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, 2 Namibian sprinters, were barred from competing in races because of their naturally high testosterone levels. Female athletes who have higher testosterone levels are forced to take medication to reduce them, and those who refuse are banned from participating in 400meter-1 mile races. This rule in its purest form is racist and discriminatory against black and trans women, who generally have higher testosterone levels than white cisgender women, by setting a parameter for being “woman enough”.

We can turn to the International Swimming Federation for yet another example of racism against women in sports. They have recently banned swimming caps designed for black women. Black women generally have thicker and denser hair and banning swimming caps made specifically for them can leave their hair damaged. Dearing, who founded the UK’s black swimming association, commented that “whilst the chlorine damages and dries out everyone’s hair, arguably it is harder for black women.”

The glaring difference between the treatment of Black women and white men is evident in the disparity in the treatment of Sha'Carri Richardson (a black female sprinter) and Alen Hadzic (a male white fencer). Sha’carri Richardson is a woman who needs no introduction. All her hopes to bag the gold medal in the Olympic race were shattered, leaving many spectators enraged after she supposedly failed a drug test due to marijuana use⏤a drug legal in 18 of the U.S.’ states. Despite marijuana having no effect on athletic performance, she had to endure a one-month suspension. Further investigation uncovered that she used the drug to cope with the death of her biological mother. Meanwhile, Alen Hadzic (a U.S. fencer), was accused of s******y assaulting three women. The accusation was then backed by 10 more women. Even though the investigation is ongoing, he’s still allowed to compete in the Olympics.

The disparity between genders and race is more than evident in these cases. So are the intersections of gender and race. The extreme scrutiny black women face and the benefit of the doubt white men get makes these double standards crystal clear.

Black women have beaten all odds to shatter the glass ceiling. They have worked twice as hard as their counterparts, battled against prejudice, and have won many battles. But they’re still fighting. The fact that they must train twice as much, take medications that others don’t, and face hardships others don’t is proof that our society is not yet equitable. The Olympics is not just like they pretend to be.Women of colour deserve a competitive environment that acknowledges and embraces their diversity. Women of colour deserve a competition that is solely based on their athletic temper⏤because race cannot be a factor in an Olympic race.

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