05 August 2012

On double standards in Olympic reporting

He Kexin (l) and Ye Shiwen (r)

A blog post from Dermot Hunt on Ye Shiwen’s race a few days back; well worth the reading if you figure sport ought to be paid such attention. I haven’t been keeping really careful track of the Olympic Games this season, though the commentary has been somewhat interesting, including Andrew Gilligan’s jeremiad about how the Olympics have been essentially transformed into a tool to bolster corporate power at the expense of the British people whose games these supposedly are. But that happens to be incidental to the subject at hand, which is sportsmanship.

In 2008, a young woman by the name of He Kexin won gold medals on the uneven bars and team gymnastics events. Instead of congratulating her and her teammates on a spectacular performance, immediately the news media and experts from other countries began floating questions and insinuations about her age (believing she looked too young to compete), usually prompted by pseudoscience of the most noxious sort, something you would expect to find in the journals of racial ‘science’ quacks. The IOC made a full investigation and determined, in spite of a sustained effort from various corners to discredit her, that Ms He had indeed been old enough to compete.

Here again, we have a young female athlete who has broken records and posted a time which broke her personal best by a good five seconds, or almost two percent in the past two years (such things having happened before and will likely happen again, as in the example of Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania, who beat her own time by four percent in one year). Yet Ms Meilutyte was never accused of ‘doping’; instead, she was hailed as an inspiration (and rightly so, by all accounts!). Why is this? Mr Hunt asks the same question, and comes to a rather uncomfortable answer:
Well, it seems that answer depends almost entirely on race. If you’re white, if you have an English trainer, then everyone’s going to be delighted for you. If you’re Chinese, you’re going to face a barrage of cowardly smears and insinuations that will ruin the greatest day of your life. Hurrah for the Olympics!
Rather unsporting, what?

As it turns out, Ms Ye has been repeatedly cleared and tested drug-free. So what it comes down to is this: either you trust the drug tests, or you don’t. Either you trust the Chinese athletes to compete fairly, or you don’t. If you don’t trust the drug tests, don’t use them. If you don’t trust the Chinese athletes, don’t let them compete. Simple as that. But allowing them to compete and win, and then gossiping and slandering them as liars and drug cheats out of jealousy, is disgraceful and dishonourable behaviour.

Also, athletes have been expelled from these Olympic games for making racist tweets on Twitter (also here). Perhaps the corporate media ought to be held to the same level of scrutiny?


  1. Sorry, but I don't buy it. The same accusations, the exact same stereotypes, the same dislike was projected at white, blonde Soviet and East German athletes in the Cold War. Meanwhile, they're never applied to Christine Yamaguchi or Jeremy Lin.

    It's political, not racial. If they didn't come from a country that has "People's Republic" in its name I don't think this would be happening.

  2. Hi Benjamin, welcome to the blog!

    I would be the first to admit that Russophobia was (and is still, actually) a major problem; I will also grant that there is a strong political angle to the unfair questions surrounding Ms Ye and Ms He. But I would argue that the media treatment of Jeremy Lin was problematic in several ways that cannot be explained away politically: Anthony Federico and Max Bretos at ESPN and the 'Chink In The Armour' quip; the 'couple inches of pain' comment by FOX Sports commentator Jeremy Whitlock; Floyd Mayweather's comments that Lin was only receiving attention for his race and not for his play; and so on and so forth.

    There is indeed more going on, but I don't think that Mr Hunt's concerns about the way we treat Asians in sport are to be dismissed so easily.

  3. Thanks for the Welcome.

    Sorry if my comments gave the impression that I don't think that Jeremy Lin didn't catch a lot of racial garbage during his rise. Of course he did, but it was not the same kind of stuff thrown out at Team China. What happened in the Olympics had a very different texture, a different grit, if you will, that felt more like warmed-over anti-Soviet Cold War stereotypes than racial animus. Nobody said that Lin was some emotionless, inhuman robotic monster subjected to an inhuman training/doping program that enabled him to destroy anything in his path. No, it was pretty much good, old-fashioned vulgar racism that he caught. I didn't see the latter with the Chinese athletes but I saw a heck of a lot of the former. And white athletes from the Eastern Bloc got the exact same treatment.

    I realize the following is fictional, but it paints a good portrait of how Americans viewed Soviet (and how the media still views Chinese) athletes. I give you Ivan Drago:


    Let me put it this way: do you think the Japanese women's soccer team would have been accused of doping, or cheating had they beaten the American team in the gold medal final? I have a difficult time seeing that happening. Maybe there would have been some vulgar racism, but I don't see any of the stereotypes used on the Chinese being trotted out.

  4. And BTW, nice to meet a fellow Anglican online ( and one with almost identical churchmanship and the same attitude towards the modern Episcopal Church, no less!)