The Tokyo Summer Olympics will be starting in just a few weeks, on July 23, but the organization itself and its associated Olympic teams and associations are already winning gold medals in terrible and offensive decision-making. All of which — by pure coincidence, we are sure — involve Black women.

Let's get to listing!


Are they high?

The US Olympic team has suspended track and field star Sha'Carri Richardson for testing positive for marijuana. Olympic athletes are banned from smoking weed, because according to the the World Anti-Doping Agency and the US Anti-Doping Agency, it "poses a health risk to athletes, has the potential to enhance performance and violates the spirit of sport."

I'm going to give you a moment to think about this, and really take all of it in.

The hell kind of athletic ability is enhanced by marijuana? I smoked pot all through high school and I barely passed gym class (though that was less likely due to the pot-smoking than to the fact that I rarely went to gym class). I feel relatively sure that in the history of the world, no one has smoked pot because it made them better at running.

Travis "Reefer Madness" Tygart, spokesperson for the US Anti-Doping Agency, released a totally enraging statement saying, "The rules are clear, but this is heartbreaking on many levels; hopefully, her acceptance of responsibility and apology will be an important example to us all that we can successfully overcome our regrettable decisions, despite the costly consequences of this one to her."

She smoked pot, Travis, she didn't kill anyone. It's a legal substance in 18 states. She didn't take steroids, she didn't take any actual performance enhancing drugs, she smoked pot. And apparently she did it because she was traumatized by the fact that she learned of her birth mother's death from a reporter asking her about it.

This is far from the first time someone has been booted from the Olympics for a ridiculous reason involving a "banned substance." In 2000, 16-year-old Romanian gymnast Andreea Răducan lost her gold medal because she tested positive for pseudoephedrine, because a doctor gave her a cold pill to reduce a fever. Oddly enough, the girl who got to move up and get the gold medal had taken the same cold pill, but didn't "test positive" for it because she weighed more. In 1972, swimmer Rick DeMont was stripped of his gold medals because his asthma medicine contained ephedrine.

As ridiculous as "Well, if you wanted your gold medals, you should have just died instead of taking your asthma medication!" is, at least ephedrine is something that actually could, feasibly, enhance someone's performance. Whereas marijuana ... not so much.

It's pretty clear that the "real" reason why smoking pot is banned is not because it's actually going to enhance anyone's performance, but because the Olympics and related associations are very big on keeping up appearances and simply can't have an Olympic athlete smoking pot. It's an image issue, and they're very big on Olympians having wholesome, Wheaties-box-ready, images.

Gotta move on to the next subject or I'll start going off about the US Figure Skating Association's past homophobic bullshit, and we will be here all day.

Genetic differences only okay for Michael Phelps, we guess

Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, two cisgender sprinters from Namibia, have been banned from competing in the Women's Olympic 400-meter dash because their testosterone levels were too high.

The Namibia Olympic committee released a fairly galling statement on their behalf — noting that it was important to understand that they didn't know about their "condition" beforehand, as if knowing about it would have constituted cheating of some sort.

"According to the rules of World Athletics, this means that they are not eligible to participate in events from 400m to 1600m," according to the committee. "It is important to understand that both our athletes were not aware of this condition neither did any family member, their coach or the NNOC-CGA [Namibia Olympic Committee] were aware of it. … Both Christine and Beatrice will be able to compete in the 100m and 200m events."

The thing is, Olympic athletes frequently do have genetic differences that make them particularly good or adept at their sport. Michael Phelps has several genetic conditions that give him an edge in swimming, but you don't see him getting banned. We don't ban unusually short people from competing in gymnastics or unusually tall people from competing in basketball, in fact no one of average height is going to make it to the Olympics in either of those categories. Both male and female sprinters have a higher incidence of having the 577R allele than the population at large, and in fact, according to an article in Nature, "almost every male Olympic sprinter and power athlete ever tested carries the 577R allele, a variant of the gene ACTN3." This allele is reportedly responsible for a genetic predisposition to elite athletic ability.

Even barring runners for for "too high" testosterone levels is a new thing that only started in 2018, and was specifically developed to keep South African runner Caster Semenya out of competition because she ran too fast. The rule also affected all three gold medalists in the 2016 800-meter race, all of whom were also Black women from Africa. Sheer coincidence, we are sure.

Runners are allowed to compete if they are willing to take hormones to suppress testosterone for six months before competing, which Semenya has said were not worth it due to the fact that they cause "weight gain, fevers, a constant feeling of nausea and abdominal pain."

Drowning in a sea of bullshit

Also yesterday: Soul Cap, a company that produces swimming caps specifically designed for Black hair, was told that FINA, the international governing body for swimming, would not be certifying their caps for competition because they don't follow "the natural form of the head." Whatever the hell on earth that means.

FINA also told Soul Cap that to their "best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration." Which is probably true if they were only checking with white swimmers. Perhaps if they had checked in with Alice Dearing, who is about to be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in Olympic swimming events and is in fact a brand ambassador for the swim caps, they might have had even better knowledge.

Unfortunately for Black swimmers, swim caps made for white hair do not work for their hair, often because they are just too small. This would be surprising if it were not already known that swimming as a sport has a real long way to go when it comes to inclusion. In the States, less than one percent of USA Swimming membership is Black. Four-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel has spoken about this issue frequently, as well as the swim cap problem.

Via CBS:

She also used her platform to promote a message from the AfroSwimmers group, which asked USA Swimming to hire more black coaches and "approve and support the use of larger swim caps for swimmers with natural hair and locs," among other things.

While speaking with CBS News, Manuel said she wants people to "try to dismantle stereotypes, to not feel like people have to be put in a box, because we're all capable of doing wonderful things, but systems in place have constantly made people feel inferior or made them feel like they can't achieve the things they can achieve."

That interview occurred a year ago, by the way, which makes it especially odd that "to the best of their knowledge," FINA has simply never heard of this being an issue.

And the icing on the cake ...

The International Olympics Committee has decided to allow protests ... just not during events or medal ceremonies. Meaning that things will not end well for anyone considering protesting any of this bullshit by emulating the 1968 Black Power salute at the Mexico City Olympics. It also seems to be a deliberate message to hammer-throwing track and field star Gwen Berry, who pissed off US conservatives this week by refusing to look at the flag during the national anthem.

But hey, Ms. Berry got the US Olympic Trials to get rid of their rule against protest last year ... so hopefully the I.O.C. will be next. They could clearly use some help.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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