Olympics 2012: Games of Tolerance?

The summer Olympics 2012 in London has been going on for over a week now. Exhilarating sports performances by the worlds best sportsmen and –women. It is the first Olympics where every participating country has sent women to compete for Olympic gold. At the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 no women competed, as “inclusion of women would be impractical uninteresting, unaesthetic, and incorrect”. The Olympics have come a long way since 1896, but at what price? Are the Olympic Games about the best athletes competing in different disciplines or is it a cunning political tool to promote human rights? Let us take a look at the last week and what was tolerated and what not.Olympic flag


The most reported tolerance issue is the participation of women from all attending nations. For the first time, Brunei, Qatar and, most notably, Saudi Arabia have sent female athletes to the Olympics. This is a great achievement for the Olympic Committee and sends the right signal that women are encouraged to participate in sports. But this also created some difficulties. The International Judo Federation demanded that the Saudi Arabian judo fighter Shaherkani competed without headscarf for safety reasons. The Saudis threatened to withdraw Shaherkani and the federation changed their mind. One can only wonder how the federation came up with the “safety reasons” argument in the first place, and how easily this safety regulation was absolved for the sake of female participation. Furthermore, in less than a minute and a half it became clear that Shaherkani’s lack of Olympic-caliber skills diluted the purpose of the Olympics Games, namely the competition of the best athletes in the world. For most disciplines athletes are required to reach a certain benchmark in order to compete on the highest global level. One can only hope that her short-lived appearance in the Olympics creates a surge of female participation in sports in strict Islamic countries. Unfortunately, much of Saudi Arabia failed to watch Shaherkani’s accomplishments on tv because her fight took place during prayer time in the country. Was this also a requirement of the Saudis to allow her participation? As long as the people do not see what happened, it did not really happen. This way the participation of females in sports can be swept under the rug and life in Saudi Arabia can continue like before, with no females openly practicing sports. I sincerely hope that women will be treated as equals in these countries soon, there is still a very long way to go though. And what does this now mean for other religious attributes at the Olympic Games? Olympics 2016, a Sikh swimmer with a turban? Even though the participation of women of all nations is a great accomplishment, how far do we want to tolerate the demands of religion in order to have women from women-opressing countries compete? Are we not sending wrong signals here? Once again the boundaries of tolerance will be different between culture and even individuals. I have nothing against headscarves, but I do against the oppression of women. Where lies the boundary and what is wisdom in such a difficult cultural question?


German rower Nadja Drygalla left the Olympics after reports that her boyfriend is a member of the extremist political party NPD. The party is described as racist, anti-Semitic and inspired by the Nazis. It is represented in two state assemblies in East Germany. In other words: a legal, albeit questionable, political party in Germany. In a recent interview she distances herself from their extreme right political viewpoints. It was her own decision to leave the Olympic village after media “found out about the relationship”. She did not want to burden her team with the media frenzy that followed. The media found out that her boyfriend, who used to row for Germany in the youth team, was involved with political activities of the NPD and were looking for a scandal. “Neo-Nazi girlfriend participates for Germany at the Olympics” is a headline fitting perfectly on a tabloid front page. National Socialism and Anti-Semitic views are way beyond my line of tolerance, but I do not think it is up to the Olympic Committee to judge a sportswoman on the political perspectives of her boyfriend. One can of course discuss her choice of boyfriend, and whether or not she should tolerate his perspective.

The expulsion of Voula Papachristou is more straightforward. Her tweet translates to: “With so many Africans in Greece… At least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!!!” This is obvious racism and definitely not tolerated from Olympic participants, nor anyone for that matter. Personally I don’t mind jokes about different nationalities. For example I live in Germany and am made fun of by not being able to drive, always having a camper on holiday, smoking weed all day and living under water. No harm done, we are just joking around. Jokes involving racial/national differences can be funny, but should be made in the right context, e.g. comedy clubs. Not at the Olympic Games.

The badminton scandal involves Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian badminton players trying to lose in order to have an easier next round. They played to lose and got exactly what they were playing for. They all got expelled, losing in a very sad way. The Olympics is a competition were the expectations are high and players have to perform on the A-level. Cowardly play like this, embarrasing themselves in front of fans was not tolerated. And it shouldn’t be.

Of course there have been the drug expulsions. Being Dutch and former university student I have a more liberal view on drugs, but drugs and Olympic Games do not match. Drugs are not, will not and should not be allowed for professional sportsmen and women. The expulsion of US Judoka Nicholas Delpopolo did make me grin a little. He was expelled after testing positive for Marijuana. He ate the wrong cakes, accidentally. He probably visited Amsterdam and just wanted to drink a cup of coffee and have a cupcake. Wrong coffeeshop my friend.

All in all it has been an interesting week at the Olympics. How did you perceive the tolerance issues? Did the Olympic committee make the right decisions? And how do you feel about the influence of the media on these items? Feel free to share, and spread some tolerance in your own circles!


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