The International Olympic Committee has had several instances in recent weeks of penalizing Black female athletes, continuing a long history of placing unfair restrictions and standards on Black athletes.
The Olympics disqualified two Namibian sprinters for naturally high testosterone levels, believing they had an unfair advantage. This relates to the ongoing debate about transgender women in sports and is an example of how these arbitrary definitions of womanhood harm both cisgender and transgender women. The disqualification also continues the unfortunate tradition of masculinizing and demonizing Black women for not fitting into the mold of white womanhood.
Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for a month after smoking marijuana to cope with receiving the news of her biological mother’s death from a reporter during an interview. While this ruined her chance of being on the U.S. track team, white Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe got a feature in Forbes about her use of cannabis in her workout routine. Though CBD and THC are different, it still shows a significant double standard for Black and white athletes. Plus, if Richardson can run faster than everyone else after using a substance that can harm your athletic performance, she deserves to compete.
Another athlete that has faced a ton of racism at the hands of officials is gymnast Simone Biles. She’s the most decorated gymnast in history and can perform moves no one else can, but is penalized for it. In the U.S. Classic, she unveiled a new move called the Yurchenko double pike and was only given a 6.6 score for it because it was considered dangerous for other athletes to try. Scores given on new moves determine how they will be scored in the future, underselling Biles’ abilities and preventing her from getting ahead of her competition with moves they can’t even attempt.
The International Swimming Federation banned a swim cap designed for natural Black hair. The Soul Cap was designed for thicker hairstyles like braids, locks and Afros and is supposed to protect the hair from chlorine. They banned it for not following the natural shape of the head under the guise of making sure equipment doesn’t give unfair advantages to swimmers. Other athletes actually believed the shape would be a disadvantage because it is bigger and could produce more drag in the water. Yet when it was discovered Michael Phelps had flipper feet and freakishly long arms it was a cute news story.
Black women athletes like Simone Biles and U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry carry the U.S. Olympic teams on their backs, yet are scrutinized and held back at every turn. The country relies on Black excellence to fuel its ego with medals, but refuses to stand up for those same athletes. Their white teammates need to stand with them and protest against these standards. As viewers we should also boycott the Olympics in solidarity with Black athletes.