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Controversies at Tokyo 2020

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Controversies at Tokyo 2020

Controversies around athletes over the last week have called into question whether Tokyo 2020 is truly inclusive.

We are about two weeks away from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. While controversy around the upcoming Games have so far focussed on the feasibility of the event and the ethics around continuing with them during the ongoing pandemic, recent news has questioned if the Games are truly inclusive of athletes from marginalised backgrounds. We recap the four controversies that have erupted in the last week:

  1. CeCe Telfer ruled ineligible for US Olympic trials

CeCe Tefler, a track and field champion, is not allowed to compete in the 400-meter hurdles at the US Olympic trials because of her testosterone levels. A transgender athlete, she did not meet the testosterone guidelines set by World Athletics and has been disqualified from the Olympics.

This blow comes after last month’s celebrations of trans weightlifter Laurel Hubbard joining the New Zealand team, becoming the first transgender Olympian ever.

  1. Swim caps made for natural hair banned from the Olympics

Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international swimming federation, sparked intense backlash when it banned the use of special swim caps designed for black athletes with natural hair. FINA claimed that the caps did not follow the “natural form of the head,” and that such caps are not needed.

Most swim caps are developed and designed not considering the specific needs of Black hair. The specially designed caps by Soul Cap were larger, to accommodate thick and curly hair. While any accessory that gives competitors an unfair advantage should be thoroughly inspected, given that these caps are larger and bulkier, they are unlikely to give swimmers any aerodynamic advantage.

After the backlash, FINA has announced that it will review this policy.

  1. Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi ruled ineligible from competing at the Olympics

Due to their naturally high testosterone levels, two Namibian sprinters Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi have been disqualified from the women’s 400-meter race. The same rules have applied in the past to South African Caster Semenya and Indian Dutee Chand.

Gender testing has been widely criticised by the international community, including human rights organisations like the Human Rights Watch and the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee, and also by feminists and other groups. The ‘tests’ have been said to be racist and sexist, since it has mainly targeted Black women and women of colour.

  1. Sha’Carri Richardson banned for one month for testing positive for marijuana

American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson won the women’s 100-meter race at the US track and field trials in Oregon last month, but her positive test automatically invalidated her result in the event. It is unclear if she will still qualify to be part of Team USA for the upcoming Games.

Richardson claims to have used the drug to cope with learning about the death of her biological mother while she was in Oregon.

Given that the use of marijuana is legal in many states of the US, including Oregon, and in many countries of the world, and that the drug is not known to increase one’s athletic performance, it is surprising that the drug is still considered a prohibited substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Further, considering the medical benefits of marijuana, athletes may be taking medical marijuana for a variety of reasons including anxiety, insomnia and injury recovery, and the sporting field should harness these medical benefits, rather than vilify the drug.

It is important to note that all these controversies surround black athletes. How inclusive, then, are the upcoming Games towards athletes from marginalised groups? On the one hand, sport is hailed as a vehicle for progress and change, yet elite sport does not always seem willing to adapt to the changing times, usually at the expense of the most marginalised.

Editor's note: Since the article was published it was confirmed that Sha’Carri Richardson would not play any part in the Games

Read our coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


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Wednesday, July 7, 2021 - 12:52

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