Olympic policy changes spark outrage

A parchment paper-like background with two torches on either side, and the words “Rule 50: Let’s Make the Olympics Great Again”
An outdated background with an outdated sentiment for outdated policy announcements image manipulated by holly funk using Canva

If you think sports aren’t political, you’re not paying attention

Since the cancellation of the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020, the world has eagerly been waiting their rescheduling. However, many regulations have been put into place and many disqualifications have occurred which have caused some fans and athletes to become uncomfortable with the way in which things have been unfolding, and the implications that it may have for all parties involved. Whoever said that sports aren’t political never would have anticipated this. 

First up, the International Swimming Federation has rejected the use of Soul Caps. For those unfamiliar, Soul Caps are a Black-owned brand of swim caps that was designed to provide properly fitting caps for athletes with natural Black hair. The reason for the Federation’s decision to ban those competing from wearing these caps is because they do not fit the ‘natural form’ of the individuals’ head. This ruling stems from the way in which the Speedo 50 caps fit an individuals’ head as they do not possess the same amount of volume and therefore do not provide added room and stretch for it to hold athletes’ hair effectively. The decision made to ban these caps continues to add to the problem of discrimination for Black individuals in the aquatics community by acting as a barrier to potential participants. 

Next up is the disqualification of five different track sprinters from competing in certain events at the 2021 Olympics. These distance sprinters were barred from competing in any events that have a distance between 400 meters and a mile. The reason? Their natural testosterone levels are too high. Distance sprinters must have a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter, so if those disqualified want to compete, they are required to take medication to alter their natural levels. If they choose not to alter their natural chemistry this way, they will only be permitted to compete in events where the distance is less than 400 meters. The latest of the disqualifications was the Namibian sprinters at the training camp hosted in Italy. 

While looking at the competing sprinters, we cannot forget to talk about gold medal prospect Sha’Carri Richardson who was supposed to be competing in the 100-meter dash. Richardson was barred from competing and put on a one-month suspension after testing positive on a drug test for marijuana. This substance is legal in 18 states and has not been proven to enhance athletic performance in any way, which has many outraged as a result of the ban. What sparked a larger uproar was when Richardson revealed to the press that the reason she had used marijuana was to help her cope with the death of her mother not long before the testing took place. Regardless, the regulations have been set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and therefore must be upheld by all countries competing regardless of their own laws around the substance in question. 

Tokyo has recently announced that they will not be allowing spectators at any of the Olympic events. COVID-19 variants are spreading quickly in the country, and as less than 50 per cent of the country’s citizens are vaccinated, they are wanting to minimize the influx of people that the Olympics would bring to their community. Although these variants are a problem, organizers are still accepting athletes and their coaching teams into the country without hesitation which means that any country who is choosing to send their athletes and training teams are knowingly putting them at risk to compete. 

Athletes who are choosing to attend the games realize that this is one of the biggest stages that they will compete on in their profession. The Olympic committees also realized that and are reinforcing the ban that was originally put into place during the 1968 games stating that athletes are not allowed to demonstrate any kind of political expression during the games. Rule 50, as it is referred to, has been around for over 50 years and is still being upheld. It states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Upholding this kind of ruling for so long speaks volumes about the way in which we navigate our world. Athletes are not allowed to rock the boat to help those who are not fortunate enough to have the same platform as it will cause those watching discomfort. This idea has heightened in intensity for this year’s games as the Black Lives Matters movement is still very prominent in Western countries. As well, the fight for 2SLGBTQAI+ rights in Eastern countries, including the hosting country Japan, are ones that will be forced to go unaddressed as a result. Any kind of act whether it be in the form of clothing or physical action will result in the athlete being disqualified. 

Moving forward, policies may continue to change, improve, or prove to be more problematic than originally considered. Those saying that sports are not political never anticipated the outrage that would come out of this year’s Olympic games, and likely believe that sports aren’t political due to policies like Rule 50 that prohibit athletes from fully conveying their experiences. From the perpetuation of systemic discrimination, flaws in the assistance of the athletes’ mental health, and the risk that is put on the physical health of those who will be competing, there is much to stay updated on. For anyone watching the games this year, remember everything that is being implied on that podium. 






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