Published on The Canary, Aug 12, 2021
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games drew to a close on 8 August, but the repercussions of its racist, transphobic policies continue to impact the lives of Black athletes.
Over the course of the games, we saw organisers promoting discriminatory policies that pander to Eurocentricity at the expense of Black athletes – particularly Black women. This came as no surprise, as racism and white supremacy have played a central role in the development of the games. If the International Olympic Committee (IOC) really does want to “build a better world through sport”, it must challenge its inherent racism and transphobia to ensure that Black women can participate fully in future games.
Transphobia and misogynoir
On 3 August, former Polish sprinter Marcin Urbaś requested that Olympic organisers test 18-year-old Namibian runner Christine Mbomba “to find out if she definitely is a woman”. In July, World Athletics banned Mboma – along with her teammate Beatrice Masilingi – from running in the 400m race at the Tokyo 2020 games because of their “naturally high testosterone levels”.
In September 2020, the Swiss supreme court ruled that Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya would not be allowed to compete unless she takes hormone-suppressing drugs or undergoes “surgical interventions”. World Athletics has since used this ruling against Kenyan runners Maximila Imali, Evangeline Makena, and Magaret Wambui; Burundian runner Francine Niyonsaba; Ugandan runner Annet Negesa, and Nigerian sprinter Aminatou Seyni.
This archaic binary classification of gender is inherently transphobic. This rule – which disproportionately excludes Black African women – reflects white supremacist constructions of womanhood which deem Black women as ‘other’ and ‘abnormal’. Encouraging Black women to take drugs or even surgery in order to compete in the games is incredibly sinister.
Exclusion from white-dominated sports
Ahead of the Tokyo games, FINA banned the Soul Cap – a swim cap that is designed to accommodate natural afro hair. The ban coincided with Alice Dearing’s qualification to participate in the games. Dearing is a Soul Cap ambassador, and the first Black female swimmer to make it into Britain’s Olympic team. According to the International Swimming Federation, the cap was banned because it doesn’t fit “the natural form of the head”. This ban pushes the narrative that natural Black hair is abnormal and deviant. Policies such as this help to perpetuate racial disparities in white-dominated sports such as swimming.
The IOC banned US sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson after she tested positive for THC – the main active ingredient of cannabis. Following her one month ban, the US women’s team kicked her out of the Tokyo 2020 squad. The ongoing ban on marijuana continues to target People of Colour, even though it isn’t a performance-enhancing drug.
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