Greek Triple jumper Voula Papachristou has been expelled from Greece’s Olympic team this week for mocking African immigrants and expressing support on Twitter for the far-right Golden Dawn party. Despite the obnoxious content of these views for many of us, I believe that the move raises serious free speech concerns.
Papachristou was removed from the team because her tweets were viewed as “plac[ing her] outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”
Papachristou is responsible for several retweets and postings of YouTube videos promoting the views of Golden Dawn, which is viewed as a virtually fascist organization by critics. The most serious matter however came with a tweet on a story of the appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens. Papachristou wrote: “With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!” The tweet produced a firestorm of criticism.
She was also criticized for several of her retweets were original tweets by Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn spokesman who recently struck a female Communist MP in the face and threw water at another female MP during a TV talk show. Papachristou tweeted to Kassidiaris on his name day, last Friday, “Many happy years, be always strong and true!!!”
She posted apologetic messages on Twitter and Facebook, stating “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights. My dream is connected to the Olympic Games and I could not possibly participate if I did not respect their values. Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races. I would like to apologize to all my friends and fellow athletes, who I may have insulted or shamed, the National Team, as well as the people and companies who support my athletic career. Finally, I would like to apologize to my coach and my family.”
This is not the first time the games have faced such a controversy. Indeed, these tweets are minor when compared to the protest of African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Games. Notably, the U.S. opposed the expulsion of the athletes from the games but yielded when the entire U.S. team was threatened with expulsion. I thought the protest in 1968 was inappropriate and deserving of punishment given the tradition and rules of the international games regarding political statements at the competition. In this case, however, Papachristou engaged an inappropriate joke and associated with an controversial party before the start of the games.
The decision to remove the athlete in my view is a core violation of free speech. The political association criticism is particularly worrisome as a cited basis for the action. Many athletes have historically been connected to political parties or movements from black liberation to environmental causes. This appears a case of selective prosecution. Likewise, the joke was tasteless and obnoxious. However, she apologized for it. Moreover, she is allowed to hold anti-immigration views. I agree that she is given an honor to represent a nation and can be expected to refrain from such comments during her participation. However, the impression is that it is the holding of these views and not necessarily the timing that prompted such action. If Papachristou had made such jokes last year, would it still be a basis to bar her from the team? While she insists it was a joke, the controversy does raise the question of whether a racist should be barred due to his or her views. In my view, they should not be barred though they can be expected to refrain from such comments while on the team representing a nation. There are many athletes with known anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or misogynistic views that are common to their countries. They are not barred from competition. If we start to bar athletes on unacceptable views, where to we draw the line? I understand the uproar and I believe that Papachristou was rightfully forced to apologize because she is representing Greece. However, I am disturbed by the outcry over her political views and the demand for her removal.
What do you think?
66 thoughts on “Greek Athlete Expelled From Olympic Team Over Political Views And Racist Joke”
The Black Power salute is still appreciated. I went to Zuccotti Park last October, before they shut it all down, while I was on business in NYC. There was a stage there and every night all sorts of people would play an instrument, sing a song, read a poem, do some rapping, etc.
One older black guy got up and read a very moving poem of his own, in a sort of beat style, so when he ended I gave him the black power salute. He was so happy to see that, and so happy that his poem had inspired me that he came over to talk to me.
It is still relevant and still a sign of unity, even now.
Well-written historical fiction is an excellent vehicle for helping history come alive for children/young adults. My daughter had a number of teachers who assigned the reading of such books–which were some of my daughter’s favorites.
Thanks go to Dave Zirin of The Nation for writing that article that gives us some perspective and background on that “Olympic Story.”
Elaine, thank you for the story.
“When mentioned at all in U.S. history textbooks, the famous photo appears with almost no context. ”
This was the problem I had with various history and social studies classes. We were to memorize names, dates and places without any context. It was boring beyond belief. In the many years since since my reading is mostly non-fiction, lots of history (with a few murder mysteries thrown in), It is possible to get the context of the names, dates, and places. It’s fascinating, inspiring, anger inducing. Why was it so empty in school? Why so boring? School books use a very wide brush with not much in the bristles.
Asst coach and Sociology
Thank you for your considered thoughts.
Of course my concern is with America. And the realization that we are many, but the moneyed have power to manipulate us.
Mostly they try to create 50+ oercent populistic support. I hoped that the percentage favoring the “corporates” would have to be much higher before populism (our version of democracy) would advance towards fascism.
This hope is in vein, as is shown by the measures now taken on several fronts:
—–denial of voting rights
—–denial of assembly to petition, protest, and demonstrate
—–denial of free speech, setting up of free speech zones
—–threatening with indefinite incarceration through the 3 most recent acts which prescribe so for those suspected of material support to those listed as terrorists.
Where free speech is thus hindered, actually or implied.
—–denial of ones right to your own person (contraception and fetal material)
Etc etc etc
Having increased their police powers restricting our rights, and militarizing our police, a culture which thinks, in self-confession, “there are police and there are A**holes”, which can be heard here.
Thank Shano for that one with a retired police captain from Philadelphia, who said what was the attitude found in the corps.
We have a big battle ahead.
And while some may make academic quibbles about what I said, it would have been better for the discussion to simply say: “Populism is a state which can lead to fascism.”
I am for my part concerned with the heart and spirit of the attacks on us and democracy, as opposed to aristocracy.
DEM means simply “the common people”, ie us. And democracy means as some have said here, that we the people are to appoint our leaders and give them guidance.
Given that premise and goal, then it behooves the elite, who think themselves so, to elevate the understanding of the plebes, not oppose education, as is popular now, especiallly among Republicans.
Whew. Lots more to go.
I dont know if populism leads to fascism but Mussolini, Hitler and Huey Long were all very popular and appealed to the masses.
So while populism may not lead to fascism, I think it is OK to say that the 2 largest fascist movements in recent history, Germany and Italy, were populist movements by charismatic leaders who appealed to the masses.
It seems all dictators come to power by populist movements, Lenin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Min, Castro so maybe the correct statement is that populism gives rise to dictatorships/totalitarian regimes of all stripes.
So while populism doesn’t necessarily lead to dictatorship it is a necessary condition for the potential dictator to come to power.
I think you are on the right track.
Thanks to the author, thanks to ElaineM. A tale that must already exist in book form.
This iconic photo should, IMHO, be enshrined as a statue in Washington. Clustered along with those of other figures, you know who they are, clustered aroung MLKjr’s.
What did Smith teach, if you please?
I knew Smith at Oberlin. He was a good man but they (the University) treated him badly and denied him tenure. I admired and respected him.
Fists of Freedom: An Olympic Story Not Taught in School
Dave Zirin on July 25, 2012
It has been almost 44 years since Tommie Smith and John Carlos took the medal stand following the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and created what must be considered the most enduring, riveting image in the history of either sports or protest. But while the image has stood the test of time, the struggle that led to that moment has been cast aside. When mentioned at all in U.S. history textbooks, the famous photo appears with almost no context. For example, Pearson/Prentice Hall’s United States History places the photo opposite a short three-paragraph section, “Young Leaders Call for Black Power.” The photo’s caption says simply that “…U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in protest against discrimination.”
The media—and school curricula—fail to address the context that produced Smith and Carlos’ famous gesture of resistance: It was the product of what was called “The Revolt of the Black Athlete.” Amateur black athletes formed OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to organize an African American boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games. OPHR, its lead organizer, Dr. Harry Edwards, and its primary athletic spokespeople, Smith and the 400-meter sprinter Lee Evans, were deeply influenced by the black freedom struggle. Their goal was nothing less than to expose how the United States used black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally.
OPHR had four central demands: restore Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight boxing title, remove Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), hire more African American coaches, and disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympics. Ali’s belt had been taken by boxing’s powers that be earlier in the year for his resistance to the Vietnam draft. By standing with Ali, OPHR was expressing its opposition to the war. By calling for the hiring of more African American coaches as well as the ouster of Brundage, they were dragging out of the shadows a part of Olympic history those in power wanted to bury. Brundage was an anti-Semite and a white supremacist, best remembered today for sealing the deal on Hitler’s hosting the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. By demanding the exclusion of South Africa and Rhodesia, they aimed to convey their internationalism and solidarity with the black freedom struggles against apartheid in Africa.
The wind went out of the sails of a broader boycott for many reasons, partly because the IOC re-committed to banning apartheid countries from the Games. The more pressing reason the boycott failed was that athletes who had spent their whole lives preparing for their Olympic moment simply couldn’t bring themselves to give it up.
There also emerged accusations of a campaign of harassment and intimidation orchestrated by people supportive of Brundage. Despite all of these pressures, a handful of Olympians was still determined to make a stand. In communities across the globe, they were hardly alone. The lead-up to the Olympics in Mexico City was electric with struggle. Already in 1968, the world had seen the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, demonstrating that the United States was nowhere near “winning the war”; the Prague Spring, during which Czech students challenged tanks from the Stalinist Soviet Union, demonstrating that dissent was crackling on both sides of the Iron Curtain; and the April 4 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the urban uprisings that followed—along with the exponential growth of the Black Panther Party in the United States—that revealed an African American freedom struggle unassuaged by the civil rights reforms that had transformed the Jim Crow South. Then, on October 2, 10 days before the opening ceremonies of the 1968 Olympic Games, Mexican security forces massacred hundreds of students and workers in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco Square.
Although the harassment and intimidation of the OPHR athletes cannot be compared to this slaughter, the intention was the same—to stifle protest and make sure that the Olympics were “suitable” for visiting dignitaries, heads of state, and an international audience. It was not successful. On the second day of the Games, Smith and Carlos took their stand. Smith set a world record, winning the 200-meter gold, and Carlos captured the bronze. Smith then took out the black gloves. The silver medalist, a runner from Australia named Peter Norman, attached an Olympic Project for Human Rights patch onto his chest to show his solidarity on the medal stand. As the stars and stripes ran up the flagpole and the national anthem played, Smith and Carlos bowed their heads and raised their fists in what was described across the globe as a “Black Power salute,” creating a moment that would define the rest of their lives. But there was far more to their actions on the medal stand than just the gloves. The two men wore no shoes, to protest black poverty as well as beads and scarves to protest lynching.
Within hours, the IOC planted a rumor that Smith and Carlos had been stripped of their medals (although this was not in fact true) and expelled from the Olympic Village. Brundage wanted to send a message to every athlete that there would be punishment for any political demonstrations on the field of play. But Brundage was not alone in his furious reaction. The Los Angeles Times accused Smith and Carlos of a “Nazi-like salute.” Time had a distorted version of the Olympic logo on its cover but instead of the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” it blared “Angrier, Nastier, Uglier.” The Chicago Tribune called the act “an embarrassment visited upon the country,” an “act contemptuous of the United States,” and “an insult to their countrymen.” Smith and Carlos were “renegades” who would come home to be “greeted as heroes by fellow extremists,” lamented the paper. But the coup de grâce was by a young reporter for the Chicago American named Brent Musburger who called them “a pair of black-skinned storm troopers.”
But if Smith and Carlos were attacked from a multitude of directions, they also received many expressions of support, including from some unlikely sources. For example, the U.S. Olympic crew team, all white and entirely from Harvard, issued the following statement:
“We—as individuals—have been concerned about the place of the black man in American society in their struggle for equal rights. As members of the U.S. Olympic team, each of us has come to feel a moral commitment to support our black teammates in their efforts to dramatize the injustices and inequities which permeate our society.”
Smith and Carlos sacrificed privilege and glory, fame and fortune, for a larger cause—civil rights. As Carlos says, “A lot of the [black] athletes thought that winning [Olympic] medals would supersede or protect them from racism. But even if you won a medal, it ain’t going to save your momma. It ain’t going to save your sister or children. It might give you 15 minutes of fame, but what about the rest of your life?”
The story of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics deserves more than a visual sound bite in a quickie textbook section on “Black Power.” As the Zinn Education Project points out in its “If We Knew Our History” series, this is one of many examples of the missing and distorted history in school, which turns the curriculum into a checklist of famous names and dates. When we introduce students to the story of Smith and Carlos’ defiant gesture, we can offer a rich context of activism, courage, and solidarity that breathes life into the study of history—and the long struggle for racial equality.
As usual my thanks go to you for adding much needed context to what both Carlos and Smith were doing. Also revealing the truth about Avery Brundage and his extreme bigotry.
A point I’d made previously, but which can’t be overemphasized, is that the “olympic spirit” is really the spirit of money and commercialism, dressed in pious platitudes. In America and some of the other wealthy nations jingoism is used to further commercial interests alone.
For the athletes who put so much effort into training, the pretense of “amateurism” has thankfully been dropped. “Amateurism” conceptually related to the Feudal concept of the Plutocratic Class being more able than their ” inferiors”. When the lie was given to that notion athletically, steps were taken to retalliate, such as taking Jim Thorpe’s medals away retroactively. As you aptly explained the protests from Smith and Carlos were related to greater opportunities for Black athletes and coaches.
Whatever the spirit of the games was supposed to be, and whatever the heritage of the Olympics (from classical Greece, right? related to different nations avoiding war by having games instead? Or something?) was or is now, the fact is that the games are big national events and big international events. Olympic sports-persons are iconic and should have a code of conduct, and I don’t know whether they do or not. Is there something like the military “conducting oneself like an honorable officer” or some such guideline? Anyway, my take on all this is: Whether she’s kicked out or not, she certainly deserved the thrashing she got. If she’s allowed to compete I hope she gets appropriately boooed. And about Smith and Carlos, GOOD ON THEM regardless of how many puffy little egos and puffy big indignant pontificators disliked it. Everybody who gains the world stage and wants to risk his or her own comfort and security for the chance to say something important that will improve and protect human decency, BRAVO FOREVER! You’ve got my personal thanks.
Papachristou will surely find a job with one or other media outlet in need of a ‘bravely outspoken’ pundit to help make their ’cause’
The cynic in me agrees with the professor but the idealist in me, which is shrinking by the day, is with those like Mespo who state that there should not be room for invited athletes to denigrate the other invited athletes. Imagine if every single athlete with one or other prejudice, dislike or downright hatred now started tweeting, even in a joke, to express their thinking about race, sexism, ideology… I don’t know, that could lead to one very messy environment. Setting a standard to refrain from doing so doesn’t seem all that difficult; I do it with first graders from all kinds of backgrounds every year. They get it, no problem.
While I quietly applauded the stance taken by Tommy Smith and John Carlos during the Olympics but I always and still believe it was contrary to the spirit of those games.
Let her comeback! The way to tread this situation reflects how to treat other volatile ones with reality-based arguments!
I invite all civil libertarians to post at either or both!Jonathon, thanks for this blog and please post at one of those twi soon!
Only “populism leads to fascism” got a comment.
I guess the other part is OK. What a relief.
Yeah, really. Do you believe it? Not I.
My last on GeneH’s comment on my comment.
I enjoy concepts such as “Art for Art’s Sake.” how about “Athletes for Athletics Sake”? Everyone would have been better off just concerning themselves with the games at hand. Always it seems there is much meddling into politics. This is against what I would hope to have been the ideal and core value of sponsoring such a humanity wide event to begin with. The games should be a DPZ or De-Politicized Zone.
How about allowing this contender to participate in what she has so excelled in and endeavored with such singular resolve to achieve. How can such physical talent and years of hard work all become unravelled with a few controlled vibrations of two vocal cords or the distribution of electronic impulses over an electrical network: neither of which to me seem like hops, skips nor jumps.
Geeze….. How quick we forget the Berlin Games of 36’……… Calling the spirit of Jessie Owens….. It took some time and a few lives….. But that countries government changed…….
“Indeed, these tweets are minor when compared to the protest of African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Games.’
I disagree. I agree with what Mike Spindell said about Smith and Carlos…and with what mespo said at 9:28 am.
I do. You’d look good in a sash with a chest full of medals.
Psst… Mespo…. Do you know any banana republics looking for a new alliance……
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