Olympics: Several Black Athletes Barred from Competing

Olympics: Several Black Athletes Barred from Competing

07.07.21
Photo: James Matsumoto/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
07.07.21

As many athletes prepare for the Tokyo Olympics this month, many Black athletes have been targeted and disqualified due to unequal policies. 

Sha’Carri Richardson won’t participate in the Olympics in the 100-meter race or the 4×100 relay. She was suspended for testing positive for a chemical found in marijuana after her victory on June 19. She said the stress of her biological mother’s recent death and the pressure of preparing for trials led her to use the drug.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted out a letter she and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland sent to the leaders of both the U.S. and world anti-doping agencies, urging them to overturn the decision.

However, USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart reiterated Friday that “the rules are clear.” 

“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,” Tygart said in a news release

But, Richardson is only one of many top Black athletes who have been barred from competing this year.

South African track gold medalist Caster Semenya failed to qualify for the Olympics after she was forced to switch events when she did not meet hormone requirements for her 800-meter race set by World Athletics. 

To compete, Semenya, an intersex cisgender woman, would have had to take testosterone suppressants, which she refused to do. 

Similarly, cisgender runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Maslingi, both from Namibia, have been ruled ineligible for women’s 400-meter sprints based on their natural testosterone levels.

At the 2016 Olympics, champion hurdler Brianna McNeal took home the gold in the 100-meter event. In January 2020, she missed a drug test because she was recovering from an abortion two days before the test. When providing proof, she mistakenly put down the wrong date for the procedure, a difference of 24 hours. She was suspended and banned from the Olympic Games for the next five years.

It was also announced that swimming caps for natural Black hair, designed by Black-owned brand Soul Cap, have been rejected by the International Swimming Federation.

On Friday, the International Swimming Federation said they would review the decision to ban the Soul Cap following backlash. 

The incidents that have barred Black athletes from competing, experts say, show how sports policies don’t take into account athletes of color and the dehumanization of Black women.

Professor Ben Carrington, a leading sociologist on race and culture, tweeted that the many challenges Black athletes are experiencing at the Olympics underscore a gross imbalance of power.

“Hoping those upset by the Sha’Carri Richardson situation become aware of the power of WADA [the World Anti-Doping Association] & those following Caster Semenya & the other women banned focus attention on the IAAF [World Athletics],” Carrington tweeted. “Sport is about power; not the ‘power’ on the field but the power to decide who plays and who doesn’t.”