Kurt Streeter, New York Times, July 23, 2021
For better or worse, the Tokyo Olympics are finally here. And that means an extraordinary burden will fall again on the shoulders of a single group of athletes: Black women.
Simone Biles is one of the most brilliant talents at the Games. But if recent history holds and she tries her most stunning moves in Tokyo, gymnastics officials will place an arbitrary limit on her score. Some say this is meant to discourage other competitors from attempting similarly dangerous aerial maneuvers. I say the sport’s regulators cannot deal with her sheer audacity.
Naomi Osaka is a supernova, perhaps the most widely known female athlete on the planet not named Serena Williams, Osaka’s idol who astutely decided not to bother with the Games. But Osaka will get tossed under the bus if she is not polite and pleasant in her interviews with the news media, a backlash prompted by her withdrawal from the French Open because she did not want to participate in news conferences there. That pressure exists alongside the dread that she’ll be derided as either too Black or not Japanese enough if she does not win a gold medal.
Gwen Berry is one of the most powerful hammer throwers in the world and one of the boldest athletes in protesting racism and injustice. But the Olympic overlords have made clear she’d better behave on the medal stand — or else.
These Games will have a split personality. They will lay bare the Olympics’ greedy quest for billions of dollars in profits from sponsorships and television contracts that, in this case, have forced the event upon a Japanese public that wants them canceled amid a surge in coronavirus infections and state of emergency.
They will provide heart-stopping, dramatic performances, although no fans will be able to watch in person.
They will show something else. The structure that wraps around and organizes sports, particularly the Olympic movement, fails in supporting women — distinctly so for Black women.
Biles, Osaka and Berry are not alone.
When Alice Dearing becomes the first Black British woman to compete in swimming, you won’t see her wearing the newly created Soul Cap, explicitly designed to accommodate thicker, curlier hair. The international swimming federation banned it.
And hovering over these games like ghosts will be several prominent Black women kept from competing.
Who will watch the women’s 100-meter dash without thinking about Sha’Carri Richardson, the American sprinter suspended from competing because of a violation of the harsh, unnecessary rules prohibiting marijuana use that are enforced by a power structure that barely includes Black voices?
Who will watch the women’s 800-meter race without thinking of Caster Semenya, who dominated while winning gold in that event at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics? She won’t defend those titles in Tokyo because track officials have decreed that her body produces too much testosterone.
Funny, nobody sought to ban swimmer Michael Phelps for his naturally occurring hyper- and double-extended joints, longer-than-average torso and wingspan, or powerful lung capacity.
Phelps is white and American. He has clout in every way.
Semenya is a Black woman from South Africa. She is treated with a lack of respect and a disregard for her humanity.
She is hardly the only Black or brown woman discriminated against by a system whose lodestar is the Eurocentric, Swiss-based International Olympic Committee.