The Tokyo Olympics are coming up quickly, and things are getting interesting. Perhaps because right now, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the entire Games. Mainly because of the International Olympic Committee and their treatment of Black women. In case you couldn’t figure it out, the treatment is really shitty. Black women are often treated poorly, but it’s even more frustrating when they are some of the most elite athletes from around the world.
We can’t talk about the Olympics and their treatment of Black women and not mention Sha’Carri Richardson. After finding out from a reporter that her biological mother had died, she chose to smoke marijuana to cope with her grief. Several days later, she ran the 100-meter in about 10.6 seconds, clinching her spot on the Olympic track and field team. When her drug test came back positive for marijuana, she was placed on a 30-day suspension, which caused her to be removed from the Olympic team.
Richardson publicly apologized (which is total bullshit) and accepted her suspension and loss. But the whole situation is causing a lot of people to examine not only these rules, but how Black women always have to bear the brunt of following them. Sha’Carri’s situation is about a lot more than the “rules are rules” argument. It’s important to look at those rules and how they came to be.
“Most governments in the world have been very reluctant to take marijuana off the prohibited list for public health reasons,” said a letter from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that was released on Friday, July 9th. The letter addressed criticisms in an earlier letter written by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Jamie Raskin, D-MD. addressing Richardson’s suspension.
“It is worth noting that when marijuana was included in the first prohibited list in 2004, one of the strongest advocates for inclusion of marijuana on the prohibited list was the U.S. government,” the letter also said.
Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here. First of all, what exactly are the public health reasons? Yes, that may vary depending on the country’s government, but what does it mean for the United States? That’s an incredibly vague phrase that could mean a myriad of different things. A little clarification would have been nice to understand the thought process behind the decision. It’s also interesting that this only became a banned substance less than 20 years ago. The fact that this prohibition is so recent also makes you wonder why they felt this was a necessary ban.
Also, let’s talk about what was happening in this country in 2004. George W. Bush was president, it was an election year, and we were in a war. Of fucking course G.W. was going to be one of the most vocally against marijuana use. That’s not really the flex that the USADA is making it out to be. It only enforces how archaic and out-of-touch the rule actually is. As more of the United States (and the rest of the world) begins to rethink their stance on marijuana, it feels like a good time for the USADA, the IOC and other relevant organizations to do the same.
But it’s not just anti-doping rules that are having negative effects on Black women during this year’s Olympic games. Along similar lines, there are rules about the levels of testosterone female athletes can have in their bodies. Yes, you read that correctly. These testosterone rules exist independently of the anti-doping rules, and are largely affecting Black women, more specifically, three Black women from Africa. Namibian track and field athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi were both barred from competing in the 400-meter race after they both ran it in record times this year. Because of their speed, they were both required to undergo testing.
“The results from the testing center indicated that both athletes have a naturally high testosterone level. According to the rule of World Athletics, this means that they are not eligible to participate in events from 400m to 1600m,” the national Olympics committee said in a statement. One of the only ways they would be able to participate is if they take birth control, which both have refused.
According to the World Athletics, for them to be eligible, they would have to meet the following standards:
- be recognized by the law as either female, intersex, or equivalent
- have a blood testosterone level of below five (5) nmol/L for at least size months
- must maintain a blood testosterone level below five (5) nmol/L for a continuous period of time
“Our evidence and data show that testosterone, either naturally produced or artificially inserted into the body, provides significant performance advantages in female athletes. The revised rules are not about cheating, no athlete with a DSD [Difference of Sexual Development] has cheated, they are about levelling the playing field to ensure fair and meaningful competition in the sport of athletics where success is determined by talent, dedication and hard work rather than other contributing factors,” President of the IAAF, Sebastian Coe, said in a statement.
It’s absolute bullshit that these standards even exist. Especially since they didn’t exist until 2018. And it seems to affect women of color, many of them Black women. The World Athletics claim of wanting to keep a level playing field is a lie. Because it only seems to be an issue when Black women are the fastest. Of course they can’t just be fast because they’re working harder than anyone else and training. There has to be something else at play. It’s unfair that they’re being penalized for something that is naturally occurring in their bodies! They literally have no control over it. And to force them to take birth control, which can have all sorts of effects on their bodies, so they can compete is unfair.
South African runner Caster Semenya has been fighting these rules for most of her decade long track and field career. An Olympic gold medalist in the 800-meter, Semenya is being barred from competing in Tokyo at all because of the rule. She is fighting the 2018 regulations by trying to appeal to the European Court of human rights. If they rule in her favor, it could help to get World Athletics to overturn these ridiculous regulations. Because of the rule, she isn’t even competing in the Tokyo Olympics. But that isn’t stopping her from fighting for runners like Mboma and Masilingi.
“Michael Phelps’s arms are wide enough for him to do whatever he wants. Swimmers’ lungs are different to other people’s. Basketball players like LeBron James are tall. If all the tall players are banned from playing, will basketball be the same? Usain has amazing muscle fibres. Are they going to stop him, too? My organs may be different and I may have a deep voice, but I am a woman,” Semenya said in an interview with The Guardian.
Understandably, Semenya feels that Sebastian Coe and World Athletics is targeting her not only because she’s fast, but because of who she is. She understands that Black women are under more scrutiny, and knows that none of it is fair.
““They want me to take my own system down. I’m not sick. I don’t need drugs. I will never do that,” she told The Guardian.
So let’s review. The IOC won’t allow Black women to openly protest for civil rights, they’re denying Black women the ability to wear the proper swim caps, and you can’t compete if you smoked a little weed. Also, if you’re a Black woman with too much naturally occurring testosterone, you can’t compete because you’re too fast for other women. Sounds like the IOC needs to get it together and do better for Black women.
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