The Inherent Racism of the Olympics

The 2008 Summer Olympic Games are set to take place in Beijing next month, but most of the hype leading up to the monumental two weeks of action has little to do with the athletic competitions themselves. Instead, we find newspapers filled with stories about potential protests, human rights violations, and the brutal censorship of the international press. In going through these stories, I started to think about one Olympic topic in particular and it’s something that I guess I knew all along; I just never explored it.

The Olympics Are Inherently Racist

We live in a day and age where it is not appropriate to discriminate based on someone’s race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, or any number of other characteristics. In the interest of fairness, everyone should be treated equally and have equal opportunity. That’s partly why it’s a little ironic that one of the largest international gatherings has an inherently racist slant to it.

Separated Based on Country of Origin

The Olympic teams have not been determined based on some sort of random draw or draft lottery. The competitions are not like those of professional sports, because while they may be aiming to be crowned as the absolute best in the world, the athletes are still considered amateurs and they generally don’t have much of a choice in terms of which teams to join.

It’s the United States vs. Austria. It’s Japan vs. China. It’s Egypt vs. Denmark. In many ways, the Olympics are there to determine which country is athletically superior. Who has the best swimmers, the fastest runners, and the most amazing table tennis players? That was part of the reason why Germany wanted to host the Olympics in 1936. Adolf Hitler aimed to “prove” the superiority of the Aryan Race. We all know how that went.

Implied Racism of the Olympic Rings

Most people know that the Olympic rings, shown at the top of this post, are meant to represent the continents of the world and how they can intertwine during the Olympic Games. That’s the official answer, because every national flag in the world contains at least one of those five colours.

I’m not sure how official this is, but I have also heard that each colored ring is actually associated with a particular region of the world. The blue ring corresponds to Europe and the green ring corresponds to Oceania, but the other three seem to be treading on thin ice. The yellow ring corresponds to Asia, the red ring to America, and the black ring to Africa. Right. That’s not racist at all.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos

This is venturing a little off-topic, but it’s worth discussing as well. You may have heard about Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two African-American athletes from the 1968 Olympic Games. Standing on the podium in first and third place, they decided to hold an anti-racism protest by wearing black gloves and holding their fists in the sky (“Power to the People” salute). This was in protest to the treatment that African Americans were receiving in the States at the time.

But what about the guy in second place? As it turns out, Peter Norman of Australia implicitly supported the political statement expressed by Smith and Carlos… but he is curiously missing from the commemorative statue at San Jose State University. That’s counter anti-racism, isn’t it? You can read more about this on Wikipedia and on this post.