I never used to care about sports, but after London 2012 and the huge Olympic hype, I was extremely excited about Rio 2016. This Olympics has seen many brilliant things and some not quite so brilliant things. Here are my best and worse moments.
Let’s start with the negatives…
A discussion over the Appearance of Athletes
When I was watching the gymnastics, I noticed some of the women were wearing make up. Of course I did, with glittery eyes and bright lips it’s hard not to notice and be insanely jealous of how fabulous they looked while doing things I could never even dream of. But I noticed this in a kind of ‘how can they compete and keep their make up perfectly neat?! What setting spray are they using?’ kind of way. Not an “I like to see a person who wins that gold medal go up there and look beautiful” kind of way. But this was how it was discussed.
I don’t think it needs to be said that this is frankly disgusting. They’re not here to look beautiful for someone else; they’re here to compete in something they’ve dedicated their lives to. They’re here to show that they can run or swim the fastest, throw the furthest, do the most precise gymnastics, play the best hockey match they can.
Yet, in 2016- yes two thousand and fucking sixteen- female athletes who are the most successful in their fields are being discussed in terms of their appearances. As if the fact that they look good for us poor souls sat watching on the television while we’re drinking tea matters more than what they’ve actually achieved. And that is not ok, because the Olympics is all about achievement.
Nico Hines, The Daily Beast
Nico Hines. We’ve probably all heard his name by now. This is the guy who created a Grindr profile, set up dates with gay athletes, and wrote about it. Firstly, this is an incredible invasion of privacy. If someone has chosen to not come out, they have their own reasons, and that’s that. It’s not up to someone else to decide. And it isn’t anybody else’s business.
But more than this, this potentially threatened the safety of athletes from certain countries. For an LGBT person in Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan or the United Arab Emirates, where homosexuality is still a crime, this potentially has serious consequences.
The article was edited, and later removed. But that does not remove the problem. The article was published and seen. Someone came up with the idea of writing it in the first place.
Furthermore, what the hell has any of this got to do with the Olympics?
Pretending Female Success is Down to Males
So, there I was, enjoying reading about who’d won medals and watching highlights on the television when I stumbled upon a comment made about Corey Cogdell. Cogdell has won two bronze medals (Rio 2016 and Beijing 2008) in trapshooting. But instead of being referred to in terms of this success, Cogdell was referred to as the “Wife of Bears’ Lineman.” Need I say anything else? Firstly, this indicates that the Bears’ Lineman is more important than Cogdell, even though she had just won her second Olympic medal. This also somehow suggests that being married to said lineman is much more of a success than achieving something as incredible as a second Olympic medal.
This Olympics also saw Katinka Hosszu break the world record in the 400m individual medley. But, of course, she wasn’t responsible for that in anyway. Who was? Well, according to Dan Hicks it was her husband and coach who was responsible. This undermines her achievements, giving the credit of her success to somebody else, who was not the person to break the world record, who didn’t achieve an Olympic gold.
I’m not saying the people surrounding athletes aren’t important to their success. But what needs to be remembered is that it is the athlete who achieved this, it is their success, not their husbands.
Paralympic Budget Cuts
Now the Olympics is over, we have the Paralympics to look forward to. I fucking love the Paralympics but it is currently facing many economic problems. The correct amount of money has not been raised in order to fund the games, resulting in cuts to pretty much everything. Travel grants are late, creating problems for athletes travelling to Rio, venues have been changed and the list goes on.
This is a huge problem. This suggests that the Paralympics is less important than the Olympics to the organisers, when both should be equally as important as the other. Paralympic cyclist Jon-Allan Butterworth tweeted “I always feel second best to my Olympic counterparts! This is simply unacceptable!”
The Paralympics shouldn’t be an after thought; it shouldn’t be any less spectacular than the Olympics, because the achievements are equally as spectacular.
Displacement in Rio
In preparation for the Olympic games, over 22,000 families have been displaced since 2009. “To put this resettlement into perspective: 88-year-old Arletta Rosa José was evicted from her lifelong home in Rio’s North Zone after 75 years of living there.”
This isn’t a widely known figure, in fact until I started writing this I didn’t know about it myself. This disruption to people’s lives is not acceptable. Imagine if someone came along and told you to move out of your house because it was being demolished for a sports venue. We wouldn’t accept that. Because it’s wrong. If you don’t have the space to build the venues, don’t host the event.
People in Rio have been forced to move to other neighbourhoods, their lives completely changed. They face changes to their daily routines, to their outgoings. Some are even in danger from less functional health systems and militia groups.
This is simply not acceptable.
But it’s not all bad. In fact there’s been an awful lot of amazing things in Rio 2016…
Unity Between Athletes
The Olympics is about so much more than competition these days. The moment I think a lot of us remember most distinctly during Rio 2016 was the selfie taken between gymnasts from North and South Korea. A selfie between two young people shouldn’t be much to talk about; they’re taken every single day. But seeing two gymnasts representing countries that have such opposing political beliefs is something to talk about. It tells us all something. It tells us that no matter what the official position of a country is we’re all just people. That they’re two young girls who have a hell of a lot more in common than they their differences.
Human kindness was witnessed over several events, but perhaps most memorably during the women’s 5000m race. After falling over, Nikki Hamblin stopped her race to help fellow contestant Abbey D’Agostino who had injured her leg during the fall. When it means everything to win, this isn’t something you expect to see. Forfeiting her own chance at getting to the final, Hamblin helped D’Agostino finish her Olympic race. This beautiful moment showed that competition is about so much more than winning.
Finishing top of the medals table again was team USA. Achieving 59% of their gold medals were the women of the team. Not only were the women unbelievably amazing, but they were also an incredibly diverse team. Swimmer, Simone Manuel became the first African American to achieve a gold in an individual event. The diverse female gymnastics team finished with nine medals. Katie Ledecky managed to achieve a huge four gold’s and one silver- she achieved five times more medals than a lot of countries did!
Female success was everywhere. It was inspiring. While the media weren’t altogether as fabulous as the achievements by the women, if I’d seen such success when I was a young girl, maybe I’d have tried a little harder in PE.
Andy Murray and his Feminism
Anyone whose heard of John Inverdale must by now know he’s a bit of a dick. We’ve all heard his offensive comments go somewhat unnoticed in the Wimbledon commentary box, and every time I hear he’s still going I’m like what the fuck, BBC? But evidently it’s not just me who finds him unbearable.
We all saw his co-presenter Steve Redgrave appear to tip a wet umbrella on him after a week of quite awkward presenting from the pair, but that’s not what made the headlines.
Andy Murray achieved his second Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 (YAY), but my attention was quickly distracted from his tennis skills to his feminism. After Murray achieved this Inverdale asked, “You’re the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That’s an extraordinary feat, isn’t it?” A compliment to Murray, a celebration of his success, yeah? What could be wrong with that?
Well, Inverdale’s compliments came with a side order of sexism. Murray quickly questioned this comment, “Well, to defend the singles title … I think Venus and Serena [Williams] have won about four each but hadn’t defended a singles title before.” (EVEN BIGGER YAY) Finally, someone argued back! After years of dreading what he was going to say next, someone finally put him in his place.
While Inverdale may not have been intentionally offensive, he certainly succeeded. With one comment he diminished the achievements of the (absolutely awesome) Williams’ sisters. It would perhaps have been accepted as an honest mistake, if he didn’t have a history of offensive comments.
Thank you Andy for finally telling him! And thank you Steve Redgrave for (whether purposefully or not) tipping water on his head.
The Refugee Team
I saved the best till last. As soon as I heard there would be a refugee team at this years Olympics I was overjoyed. A chance for people who have been through so much to do what they love to reach their goals.
Described as “a message of hope”, the participation of these ten athletes shows to everyone that you can achieve, that life gets better. They also serve as a reminder to the rest of the world what is happening, what they have faced in order to get there. The human strength we saw was incredibly emotional. As I watched the opening ceremony, I cried as the crowd cheered for them.
The Olympics is about achievement. The Olympics has the power to make us cry along with the athletes, get angry at commentators, and feel proud of a country we were feeling more than a little disengaged with. This years Olympics has told me that A LOT needs to change, but I hope it’s also told a lot of people that maybe in four years time they can be there too. They can be successful, because we can all achieve.