Battling Racism: Revisting the Unjust History of Olympics

Graphic by Surya dev Yadav

Racism has always been a continued and very active presence in the domain of sports. All types of sports, irrespective of any differences or similarities, have been perpetrators of racism in their way. Like any other sporting event, the Olympics also have been a venue for racism and the fight against it. Racism in the Olympics goes back as long as 1904, where the authorities conducted a special Olympics. The people from the non-industrialized parts of the world, especially Asia and Africa, were made to compete against white people in different sporting events that were unfamiliar to them. Many of the events were very degrading and mocking of the non-white people. The whole purpose of this event was to establish the total superiority of white people over those who weren’t white. The non-white people didn’t understand most of the rules and were far too less inexperienced to be competing in events like those. So naturally, the results favoured the white people, and the purpose of the event was satisfied.

The 1936 Berlin Olympics is perhaps the most racist sporting event that happened in the modern world. Nazi Germany, under the rule of Adolf Hitler, used the Olympics to implement and promote their antisemitic agenda. They believed in the superiority of the Aryan race and excluded non-Aryans, especially the Jews, from participating in sporting events from 1933. As a result, several European countries and the United States threatened to boycott the Olympics if the event was in Germany. However, every nation except Spain and the Soviet Union later abandoned the boycott. Hitler made the most out of this Olympics by showing the image of a peaceful Germany to the world. Germany banned many great Jew athletes from entering the competition. However, Jewish athletes from other countries participated, and nine of them won medals. Moreover, African-American people dominated many events, which seriously challenged Hitler’s notion of Aryan supremacy.

As much of a perpetrator of racism as sports is, it is also a loud platform to protest against racism. The visibility that the protests in sports get is much more than most other platforms, especially with the advent of social media. The protest by the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos is one of the most significant ones in the modern Olympics. The gold and bronze winners of the 200m race received the medals without their shoes while wearing black socks. This was to symbolise the poverty of the African-American people in the US. Throughout the US national anthem, they bowed their heads down and raised their fists as a protest against the injustices that the African-American community faced. However, the authorities expelled both of them from the Olympics as podium protests were banned in the Olympics.

Later on, they relaxed some of those rules to enable the athletes to express their views. The British women’s football team’s knee taking against Chile in Tokyo is the latest protest against racism in the Olympics. Despite all the protests, racism in sports continues to overwhelm them, and the Olympics is no exception for that. Systemic racism is well deep-rooted in society, and it will take the collective effort of everyone to eradicate it.

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