With the Olympics and Paralympics finally complete, some of the writers from Media Diversified’s Rio 2016 series look over the very best and worst of the past six weeks:
Feyisa Lilesa won the silver medal in the marathon, but of greater importance was the gesture he made as he crossed the line, crossing his arms in a symbol of solidarity with the Oromo and Amhara people of Ethiopia, and defiance against the government who are displacing them.
Not only did Lilesa help highlight an injustice that had hitherto escaped the attention of many in the West, but did so at a potentially grave loss. Lilesa has no plans to return home, explaining, “If I go back to Ethiopia, the government will kill me.” His family, however, remains in a perilous position back in Ethiopia, though the publicity generated by Lilesa’s actions have acted as a possible bulwark of protection, as it’s increasingly difficult for Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn to make them to suddenly “disappear”, as it may garner attention he doesn’t want.
Athletes are often erroneously described as courageous, yet risking your safety in the pursuit of justice? That’s true courage.
Honourable mentions go to Paralympian Marieke Vervoort, who added much needed nuance to the issue of euthanasia, and the Brazilian crowd at the Paralympics Opening Ceremony, who briefly seized ownership of proceedings by booing for nearly a full minute when the chairman of the Rio 2016 organising committee thanked the Brazilian government.
Should we call Nico Hines a journalist? We can definitely call him a homophobe. Using Grindr, Hines – who is married to a woman – deliberately outed a number of gay athletes at the Olympics. Not only is the doxxing horrific enough, but also endangered these athletes safety, as some come from countries where being gay can leave them vulnerable to homophobic violence.
Equal opprobrium should be heaped upon The Daily Beast. Hines may have penned the deplorable article, but the editors at The Beast published it, and only took it down after being upbraided by social media.
And as entertaining as the Games were, we shouldn’t forget that they came at a cost to many local residents. If the Olympics and Paralympics were a showcase for Rio, they showcased that those in power have little regard for those without.
There’s also the the tragic death of Iranian Paralympic cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad to consider, which calls into question the safety of the course for the cycling road race.
The entire swimming competition. It was simply a great meet, with close races, unexpected gold medals (see Simone Manuel; Anthony Ervin; Maya DiRado; Joseph Schooling), and surprising displays of dominance from legends (the Phelps turn; and the enormous gap between Katie Ledecky and the silver medallist in the 400 metres freestyle). It really was swimming at its absolute best.
I hate to return to this, since it feels like giving him more airtime than he deserves, but the Ryan Lochte debacle was truly dreadful. Watching many try to excuse a 32-year-old man who couldn’t find a bathroom without starting an international incident, while children – who are shot by police and vigilantes in the US – are described as grown men? It was too much to bear. The fecklessness, recklessness, and general disregard for Brazil was galling. This was American sport at its absolute worst.
Kadeena Cox was a standout athlete. She took gold, silver, and bronze medals in the cycling and athletics respectively, and became the first British Paralympian to win golds in two sports since 1984. In addition, I was thrilled to see record breaking powerlifting from Lucy Ogechukwu Ejike and Paul Kehinde.
I was disappointed at some of the commentary and coverage of the Paralympics. I felt parts of it were reductive, and the coverage did not feature enough athletes from other countries. A lot more needs to be done to give the Paralympics the respect it deserves as a sporting event in and of itself, rather than just as an attachment to the Olympics. The same goes for the recognition given to the Paralympians.
Eleanor Lisney is a founder member and coordinator of Sisters of Frida. She is an access advisor, an NUJ member on the New Media Industrial Council and the Equality Council. She is also on the British Council Disability Advisory Panel and the web team of the International Network of Women with Disabilities. Twitter: @e_lisney
For me the highlights of the Paralympics derive from the narratives of global disabled women, like hijab-wearing Nurul Taha, the boccia athlete from Singapore. I initially didn’t understand the game that I first encountered at Hereward College in Coventry. I knew it was a game for the more severely disabled, but did not understand it as a sport that requires precision, focus, concentration – and a set of balls.
There is also the triumph of Deepa Malik from the north Indian state of Haryana who won a historic silver medal; the first Indian woman to win a medal at the Paralympics. She was welcomed back by her people in a reception unusual for a disabled woman. These women are the sort of sportspeople I can relate to and feel uplifted by their achievements.
Nearly three-quarters of Channel 4’s (who covered the Games for the UK) presenters, reporters, and pundits are disabled, which is a fact to be celebrated. It gives visibility to a whole range of disabled people, such as in their show The Last Leg with the disabled comedian Adam Hills, as well as journalist and presenter Alex Brooker. I enjoyed the appearance of Breaking Bad actor R. J. Mitte, too.
Throughout the Paralympics, and before the Games started, social media from the disabled community bristled with the perspectives of disabled people themselves, comparing the optimistic message of Channel 4’s “We’re the Superhumans” advert to the fact that the UK is having an unprecedented inquiry into “systematic and grave violations” of disabled people’s human rights by the UN CRPD committee.
We were reminded by the #RightsNotGames campaign of the tragedy unfolding in the disabled community, with many deaths, some of which were self-inflicted because of the dilemma they found themselves in. There are also the stories of Paralympians losing their state support, be it financial or their Motability vehicles. Even after this year’s record gold medal tally, some of our disabled athletes will struggle to get to their practice grounds, while any notions of a Paralympics legacy doesn’t seem to include disabled people who aren’t athletes.
Joseph Guthrie is a Media Diversified columnist, UK based musician, and writer. Originally from south London, most of his education was set in central Florida (United States). His nomadic life has seen him return to the UK in 2010 and when he’s not tending to the IT infrastructure of a major printing company, he’s the lead vocalist for the band Ships Down and is Nothing Ain’t Nice recording artist. He also contributes to music blog Sampleface. Twitter: @TheAuracl3
We were privileged to see Simone Biles’ dominance in the individual all-around gymnastics, as well as helping propel the US women’s team to all-around gold; Oscar Figueroa’s tearjerking triumph in men’s weightlifting; Rafaela Silva’s last gasp, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, gold medal victory in judo; an entire medal podium comprised of black women in the 4×100 metres relay; the GB women’s hockey team winning gold in a pulsating match, making history in the process; and Usain Bolt cementing his place as one of the greatest of all-time.
We bore witness to utterly stupendous feats of athleticism from people like Kadeena Cox and Lauritta Onye; the former winning two gold medals in two different sports, and the latter smashing her own world record before launching into the most joyous celebrations we’d ever seen. There can be little doubt that the Olympic and Paralympic Games brought the sporting goods.
In what was an otherwise extraordinary performance from the US men’s swimmers, Ryan Lochte and Co. managed to embarrass themselves and the US Olympic Team with perverse lies and cowardly actions, ultimately resulting in arrests and indictments. I exuded despair in response to women being used as a respectability political prop for what they wear while competing for honours (particularly in the beach volleyball), and was left incensed over the horrible treatment of Caster Semenya by her peers, the IAAF, and sections of the media after her golden performance in the 800 metres.
Rio itself saw spikes in violence in its favelas, with an estimated 4.8 people being wounded by gunfire per day – twice as many than in July – with fifteen people slain since the start of the Games, while former President, Dilma Rousseff was categorically impeached.
Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and Sports Activist focusing on Muslim women in Sports. She is an athlete, advocate, community organizer, and works with Youth of Colour on empowerment projects and is an avid sports coach and mentor. She is a regular contributor to Muslimah Media Watch, a Global Sports Correspondent for Safe World For Women and works on the Muslim Women in Sports website. Her website is shireenahmed.com. Twitter: @_shireenahmed_
Perhaps my favourite moment of Rio 2016 was watching Rafaela Silva speak about the racism and classism she’s faced as an athlete in Brazil. She made her country proud but also spoke about how to improve the culture of sports. This matters because these athletes reflect many of the world’s population; young girls who are told and convinced by society that they are not athletes.
The Paralympics are just as important. Competitions like boccia and goalball are a reminder that all levels of ability are welcome in the world of sports. I saw podiums that featured all non-white female Paralympians, giving us moments where we revel in pure sports glory.
And it reminds us that sport is indeed, for all of us.
The ridiculous commentary steeped in misogynoir about Caster Semenya and her fellow medallists in the women’s 800 metres, including racist announcing from the CBC announcers. I also can’t handle the incessant and reductive obsessions with the clothing of Muslim women, while everyone forgives the scathing white privilege of lying “kids” (a.k.a grown-ass white American swimmers) and their disrespectful antics.
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There’s sport, and then there’s the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s an event like no other. Over the next few weeks this series, curated by Shane Thomas, will cover the medals, the nationalism, the competition, the corporatisation, the exploitation, and the sporting brilliance of Rio 2016.