Politicization of the 2021 Olympics

The Olympics. A platform to showcase top-of-the-line skills from years of dedicated training. It is a competition between the best of the best to see who can win it allat least that is what it was supposed to be.

Despite the event’s emphasis on sportsmanship, underneath lies a hidden motive between more prominent players, another competition of sorts that involves a political premise that threatens the integrity of a sole group: the athletes.

In light of recent events, political tensions between countries are still existent under the guise of the sporting event. The athletes participating are the ones who take the political pressure from the audience.

On Aug. 8, the Tokyo Olympics had come to its conclusion, with final medals being awarded, wrapping up two weeks of competition obscured by the pandemic. Looking back, however, this two-week period was an explicit showcase of what was wrong with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the politics that surrounds the Olympics as a whole.

This year’s games were the first to witness transgender and non-binary athletes join the world stage of the Olympics, with Canadian women’s Olympic soccer team midfielder Quinn becoming the first transgender and non-binary athlete to secure a medal. While the IOC has allowed transgender and non-binary athletes to participate in the Olympics since 2004, it was not until this year that more have come into the fray.

Unsurprisingly, this historic addition is accompanied by many unneeded comments and harassment from those opposed to transgender athletes competing. For instance, the case of transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who qualified for New Zealand’s female weightlifting team delegation to Tokyo, was a target of attacks due to participating in men’s competitions before her transition in 2013. Under the IOC’s 2015 set of recommendations for including transgender athletes, which are also applied to other sports bodies, like the International Weightlifting Foundation, athletes must demonstrate lower testosterone levels for 12 months before competing: a requirement which Hubbard met. Thus, claims based on the “unfair participation” of Hubbard are baseless since the person in question herself cannot control these factors. At its core, it is just another case of an athlete wanting to advocate for their community and being faced with hostility from irrational groups.

While it can be said that there is a need to update an outdated framework, the backlash on the instructions set forth should not fall upon the sole athlete to face. Transgender and non-binary athletes will continue to grow their presence in the Olympics and sports in general. That said, this incident is just another step forward for the transgender and non-binary community to fostering a space where transgender athletes can be their genuine selves on a competitive level, for which, as the saying goes: it is now or never.

Nonetheless, if there is any silver lining to this situation, the situation has brought a paradigm shift in the Olympics.

While the event has its fair share of historic feats and scandals every year, the censorship of athletes protesting during the 2021 Olympics made it clear of the IOC’s questionable standards. According to the Guardian, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizers have banned their social media teams from posting a picture of women’s soccer teams taking a knee in the match between Great Britain and Chile protesting against online hate and racism. The players could be seen kneeling on live television, which the gesture was then followed by United States, Sweden and New Zealand players. However, the location of these photos on the official Tokyo 2020 blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are nowhere to be found.

Some might argue that the actions of the athletes are inappropriate due to Rule 50 — which forbids athletes to make any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” However, peaceful protests have always been allowed on the field of play, as long as it does not disrupt fellow competitors. Additionally, both team’s actions do not fall under the category of “propaganda” when making a statement towards a general worldwide issue.

It has been clear from the beginning that the 2020 Olympics was doomed to fail with COVID-19 storming globally, in addition to significant public opinion of canceling the Olympics due to increased infections. According to a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun, 83% of voters said the Tokyo Olympics should be postponed or scrapped.

Admittedly, it is inevitable that politics will get involved with over 200 nations participating in the event: apparent political tensions will arise in the stir of competition, which has never been more explicit this year with the current events surrounding China, in addition to its host nation, Japan with the Tokyo organizer scandal. From the inclusion of Taiwan and Hong Kong, media play has never been so fruitful, while countries spread out their source of propaganda through the athletes in question. When these third parties get involved, it only proves how much human decency is needed for the Olympics to do what it is supposed to do: be an athletic contest.

Unfortunately, the Olympics will never be as simple as that, with significant controversies surrounding every nation. It brings up the question: from the long-term preparation and glamour to show off one’s home country at the costs of millions, was the Tokyo Olympics worth it?


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