The Olympics have an illustrious history including historical events taking place during their weeks long events. From Hitler opening the 1936 Olympic games to the terrorist attacks in the 1972 Munich games. The 31st Summer Olympics kicked off officially on August 5th. The Rio Olympics, while being the first South American country to host, has been bogged with controversies and protests. This Rio Olympics are set to etch its own history, but hopefully not for a devastating event but for its progress.
While the beginnings of the Olympics saw a male centric focus, times have changed. The first female athletes to participate in the Olympics were in 1900.
116 years later, the Rio Olympics is set to break the records. To start off, of the whopper 554 athletes representing the USA, 292 are female. (30 more female athletes then the men.) Women athletes are pushing records, boundaries, and definitions of high class sportsmanship. As seen below, the incredible historic swim by Katie Ledecky.
In a past post, “#SheBelieves” I mentioned how soccer can be seen and treated very much like religion as well as having an extreme amount of sexism. This mentality can extend to all sporting events. From the frenzied, fanatical fans of American football to the posh white shirts of cricket, sports can satisfy the needs for “blood and circus;” it provides a foundation and structure to situate life around. The Olympics are the epic center, the holy pilgrimage of the best athletes to compete, and for the rest of the world to cheer for. It is a potent combination of athleticism and patriotism; for team and country.
Over 11,000 athletes and 206 countries are being represent, as well as independent athletes which include refugee status athletes. The first medal awarded to the host country was a female Judo athlete. USA’s first medal was also a female athlete, ironically or realistically sad, in shooting. Canada as of August 14th, attributes all medals to their awesome ladies. The United States brings their first female hijab wearing athlete,
a female swimmer who battles Crohn’s disease (and medaled in her event), and the first openly transgendered athlete. After the Women’s Gold Rugby match, a Brazilian athlete got engaged to her partner who was working the events. This Olympics saw more female athletes in countries which have denied or restricted them from participating. Female Muslim athletes are gaining in numbers due to Olympic approval of Hijab and conservative attire – United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, and Jordan all now have female athletes participating in the Games.
Despite the growth and progress seemingly on the paper, there have been many errors and bumps along the road. Male athletes have been dropped and banned due to rape allegations, male events continually get more air time and prime channel viewership. The explosion of social media has allowed for a more constant and instant coverage of all things Olympic; which opens the door for error. Sports commentators are leading the way. When it comes to female events, commentators a more likely to focus on female athlete attire, their relationship status, and on their coaches’ contributions. The Chicago Tribute was blasted for reporting a female athlete’s success through the lens of her famous NFL husband.
Despite being legally adopted by her biological grandparents, Sports Commentator Al Trautwig would refer to Gold Medal Gymnast Simone Biles’s parents as ‘her grandparents’ and would later get into a Twitter argument over his choice of titles. (He has since apologized but remains on air.) Simone herself has responded to being linked to decorated male athletes.
When female Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu achieve a gold medal swim and a new World Record, the video feed proceeding to focus on her husband who is also her coach, added to the NBC commentator’s comment “this is the man responsible”; diminishing her tremendous effort just moments ago in the pool. Not once during Michael Phelps’s amazing swims have the commentators stated how his wins belong to his mother or his baby mama but on how they have provided emotional support.
Instead of media focusing on the growth and presence of female Muslim athletes, media has compared their conservative garbs to that of scantily dressed athletes. During the women’s bike race, Dutch biker Annemiek Van Vleuten had a horrendous crash. Following the race, a man tweeted her, “mansplaining” what she did wrong – despite the fact that the day previous over 10 male bikers had crashed on the same course.
Gymnast Gabby Douglas was slammed on Twitter for not placing her hand on her heart during the National Anthem/medal ceremony yet not even a day previous Michael Phelps was caught laughing during his medal ceremony and he went unscathed. With every achievement and medal reached by female athletes, there seemed to be one more sexist, racist, and misogynist comment waiting to try and diminish their accomplishments.
Social media has become a two-edged sword – it also allowed for people to call out these comments, it has allowed for a large amount of dialogue and calling out of gender discriminations, of sexist remakes, and of valuing athletes for their talents, regardless of gender. Social media has created gems – ones where acknowledging Katie Ledecky’s amazing skill, not as the female Michael Phelps, but as a superstar.
It is fitting that in the year 2016, with so much turmoil going on in politics and the society that the Olympics would become another stage. Another avenue for people to hash out new definitions, new meanings, and new understandings of human nature. It is another arena to which we have to continue the fight and progression; an arena that not only hosts the top athletes but represents the best of humanity.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is on the verge of taking her qualifying exams in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. Recently she was published a book review in the Oral History Review entitled, “Answer the Call.” She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.