The Sports World Is Determined To Marginalize Black Women Athletes

And Black people are taking notice, threatening to avoid watching the Tokyo Olympics at all

The Sports World Is Determined To Marginalize Black Women Athletes
Image:Clive Rose (Getty Images)

On July 2, swimmer Alice Dearing gave a not-so-subtle fuck you to the International Swimming Federation (FINA), the international governing body for swimming competitions. The 24-year-old Brit, who recently became the first Black woman to qualify to represent Great Britain in the open-water marathon at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, retweeted a post from Soul Cap, a swimwear company that specializes in larger swim caps that can accommodate all hair types, including gravity-defying afros or waist-length braids and locs. The post gave a shoutout to Dearing, applauding her for “showing the next gen of young swimmers what it looks like on the world stage to love both your hair and the sport unapologetically.”

This wouldn’t ordinarily be very newsworthy, if not for FINA making a controversial decision that same day: FINA has prohibited the use of their swim caps at competitions because they do not “follow the natural form of the head.” This would effectively ban their use in the Olympics, as the Olympics Soul Cap told the BBC that, according to FINA, to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.”

Considering how few Black people are competitive swimmers, this isn’t surprising. But typical swim caps are not practical for many Black hairstyles, just another of the several ways in which Black people are stigmatized by the sport. FINA’s ignorance received a bombardment of criticism over the weekend, so much that they’re reconsidering their stance. But this is just one of several ways in which Black Olympic qualifying athletes, especially Black women, have been harassed in recent weeks, by outdated guidelines and a puritanical peanut gallery. It’s has become so prevalent in the last couple of weeks that Black observers are suggesting that viewers and athletes alike boycott the Olympics.

Sha’Carri Richardson became an overnight sensation in June after she won an Olympic qualifying 100-meter dash while dolled up with long acrylic nails. But on Friday, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced that she tested positive for cannabis, a banned substance that is ludicrously considered a performance-enhancing drug. Richardson was apologetic, explaining that she consumed cannabis after finding out, through a reporter, that her mother had died suddenly. She has since been suspended from the US Olympic team.

Meanwhile, two Namibian sprinters, Beatrice Masilingi and Christine Mboma, have been deemed ineligible to compete in the Olympics because their natural testosterone levels are too high.

From CNN:

The 18-year-old Namibian sprinters were tested during a medical assessment and their levels exceeded the limit by a World Athletics’ policy on Athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), according to the he Namibia National Olympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Association (NNOC-CGA).
The global governing body requires that female athletes’ blood testosterone levels be under 5 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) to compete in select women’s events, including the 400m.
The committee said that neither of the athletes, nor their families, coaches or the Namibia National Olympic Committee were aware of their condition prior to testing. Mboma and Masilingi will still be able to compete in 100m and 200m events.

It’s a flashback to Caster Semenya, a Black South African woman and two-time Olympic whose naturally high testosterone has left her subjected to invasive medical testing and banned from various competitions.

This policy has disproportionately impacted Black women athletes. The fact that this doesn’t come across as a serious concern for the powers that be is as disappointing as it is unsurprising. Black women are routinely punished for being themselves.

Or even for simply obtaining basic medical care. Last week, a five-year suspension was upheld in court against Olympic track and field champion Brianna McNeal. According to the New York Times, her suspension is in connection to “missing a doping test two days after she had [an] abortion.” McNeal says she was in bed recovering from the “traumatizing” procedure and did not hear the antidoping official at her door.

And it’s almost a surprise that some international sports governing body hasn’t found a way to punish Gwen Berry yet. When the Olympic hammer was receiving a bronze medal in track and field trials late last month, she turned away from the podium as the National Anthem began to play. She then put on a t-shirt that read “Activist Athlete,” and was swiftly bombarded with right-wing vitriol from both conservative Twitter trolls and Republican lawmakers alike. Congressman Dan Crenshaw was urging Team USA to kick her off the team.

She hasn’t been, but if she decides to protest during the Olympics, she could be in violation of Rule 50, which bans athletes from protesting or demonstrating during the Tokyo games. Berry has already said she might not follow the rule.

Testosterone, hair texture, weed, a basic form of political protest… apparently expecting athletic governing bodies to leave Black women the fuck alone is too much to ask.

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