In Defense (More Or Less) Of a Banned Triple-Jumper

We’ve written little or nothing about the Olympic Games that will begin tomorrow evening, and the story of the banned Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou–the first Olympian, I believe, to be cashiered for a tweet–isn’t the kind of thing we usually weigh in on. But, what the heck–why not?

Miss Papachristou was summarily dropped from the Greek Olympic team, with no opportunity to be heard, because of a tweet that everyone describes as racist. Yahoo News headlines: “Banned Greek triple jumper ‘bitter and upset’ after racist tweet gets her kicked out of Olympics.” The Huffington Post goes Yahoo one better, alleging multiple tweets: “Greece Expels Voula Papachristou From Olympics Over Racist Tweets.”

In fact, there was only one tweet. Here it is:

With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!

Now, that may be silly or even stupid, and I guess it is sort of ethnic. But how is it racist? It says nothing bad about Africans, who, in any event, are of multiple races. If she made the same crack about athletes from Hong Kong and the Hong Kong flu, would that be racist? Why?

Yahoo News suggests that it doesn’t really matter:

Papachristou can be angry, but she can’t be surprised. When you make a statement that touches on race or religion or gender in a controversial way, the hammer can be dropped quickly. Even if her tweet wasn’t racist, it was perceived that way and that may as well be the same thing.

But it isn’t the same thing. False perceptions are legion, but you shouldn’t summarily kick an athlete off an Olympic team because of an assertion that isn’t true.

The Greek Olympic Committee seems to have been influenced by the fact that Papachristou is an adherent of the Golden Dawn party, which is conventionally described as “far right” and even “neo-fascist.” Such descriptions generally should be taken with a grain of salt in Europe, where “far right” is often synonymous with “not certain that uncontrolled immigration is a desirable thing.” But in the case of Golden Dawn, it appears that the party is unsavory at best. Still, it got 7% of the vote in Greece’s recent election, so if voting for Golden Dawn makes one ineligible for the Olympic team, we are talking about a lot of Greeks.

But here is my real point: let’s assume the worst. Let’s assume that Golden Dawn truly is a neo-fascist party. It can’t possibly be more violent, soul-crushing, tyrannical or hateful than Cuba’s Communist Party. Yet boxer Teofilo Stevenson, who was unfailingly and vocally loyal to Fidel Castro’s police state, is one of the great Olympic heroes of modern times. If Stevenson’s misguided loyalty to Communism didn’t disqualify him from being an Olympic hero, why should Papachristou’s misguided adherence to Golden Dawn disqualify her from competing?

Stevenson, of course, is just one example out of many. In fact, throughout the Cold War, Olympic officials generally favored Communist athletes over free ones. The most notorious example of the Olympics’ pro-Communist bias was the Soviets’ “victory” in the 1972 gold medal basketball game, but other instances could be multiplied just about endlessly.

And we haven’t even touched on the political views of athletes from Arab countries. Some of those athletes are no doubt paragons of tolerance, but do you suppose that the political attitudes of all such athletes would survive scrutiny? The International Olympic Committee won’t even authorize a minute of silence in honor of Israeli athletes who were murdered by Arab terrorists at the Olympics, in part as a result of lax security by the Olympics. What does that tell you?

I am willing to assume that Miss Papachristou is a silly young woman with political views that are either naive or evil. But that doesn’t distinguish her from thousands of other Olympic athletes, who are selected for skill in a particular athletic discipline, not for political acumen or moral virtue. And the claim that she issued a racist tweet is simply untrue. So, in my view, Papachristou got a raw deal.

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