IOC’s quota decision makes more Black winter athletes look on the outside

BEIJING — Winter Olympics so white.

It is, in the face of it, largely a function of geography and weather, the fact that northern lands of snow and ice – and pale-skinned people – overwhelmingly dominate the hibernating Games.

However, even strong multicultural societies, such as Canada and the United States, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe, have a poor record of producing black athletes who have qualified to participate. It is therefore not exclusively about longitude and latitude. Culture and family income are also factors. Winter sports can be prohibitively expensive, closing roads for aspiring skaters and skiers and gliders of all races. Many people also do not grow up thinking: “This is something I can do.” There are few role models, Winter Olympians who look like them.

At Beijing 2022, only five African countries will be represented in the Parade of Nations at Friday’s opening ceremonies: Eritrea, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria and Madagascar, each with only one athlete competing. Along with five countries in the Caribbean – Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, the US Virgin Islands.

But the International Olympic Committee, which has turned itself inside out to accommodate transgender and gender-fluid athletes, has done little to promote diversity in their winter spectacle or to address the obvious problems facing athletes from Africa and small island nations. does not speak, mainly the high cost of winter sports, a lack of skilled coaching and facilities, and the dilemma of training in suitable climates.

Just two weeks ago, the IOC rejected a last-ditch plea by the coaches of Ghanaian skeletal racer Akwasi Frimpong to impose continental quotas on Beijing, of the utmost importance and to its shame. Continental quotas allow athletes from unrepresented countries to qualify, provided they meet basic safety and participation requirements.

It was the second time in a month that coaches Brian McDonald and Zach Lund, on behalf of Frimpong and, by extension, female Nigerian skeletal coach Simidele Adeagbo, made desperate written points to the IOC. Both Frimpong and Adeagbo benefited from the quota system that brought them to Pyeongchang four years ago, Africa’s first athletes to take part in skeletal events at the Winter Olympics. Adeagbo has since switched to monobob.

But the IOC will not restore the quota for these Games, even if there are provisions – “Qualification System Principles” – in place for Paris, two years later, which give athletes from countries with traditionally small delegations a second chance at the Games in various individual sports, through an invitation process reserved for athletes from those countries.

IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell wrote back to the coaches – as was the January 16 deadline for Beijing’s qualifying appearance – that while the IOC “fully supports diversity inclusion”, the Olympic governing body (and autocratic ones) is connected. to “clear and equitable qualification systems that apply equally to all athletes.” Established by international federations “to ensure a fair and credible process for athletes to qualify for the Olympics according to their sport’s structures and priorities.”

Well, that’s a bureaucratic mouthful. And, likewise, McConnell is not wrong. Quotas in sport are even more controversial than confirmation action at university admissions – this is essentially not fair. Yet fairness and an equal playing field have been trumped by the same IOC when it comes to transgender athletes. Thus, not fair on one end of the spectrum or consistent on the other.

Ghanaian skeletal athlete Akwasi Frimpong, who will be seen here at the Pyeongchang Games on February 15, 2018, barely missed qualifying for Beijing.

Frimpong, 35, told Reuters he was exhausted. “I feel crushed and broken and not sure if it all really happens, because my dream and hard work was just snatched away from me because of something out of my control.”

The coaches dismissed the IOC’s recalcitrant position as a “crushing blow”, arguing that the continental quota system should remain in place until the “inequalities and problems are no longer obstacles” for African countries in Olympic Winter Sports.

Especially for Frimpong, it was a second kick in the chest delivered by fate. He was in 63rd place on the sport’s World Cup rankings and had to reach the top 60 for the Olympics, with three races left to do so when he tested positive for COVID-19 on 29 December. It has its chance to qualify without the quota.

The IOC, even if it throws the doors open for youth-oriented X Games-type sports – junk sports, as some like it – is afraid of the cheapness that Olympic ski jumper “Eddie the Eagle” and Eric “The Eel “has given. Moussambani, the swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who had never even seen an Olympic-sized pool until he arrived at the Games in Sydney and “almost drowned” according to his own admission.

There is no gimmick at all, if faint hope, for people like 19-year-old Richard Viano, Haiti’s first Winter Olympics, who qualified for giant slalom for men, the first athlete from any Caribbean country to participate in skiing at the Games. Viano, who was orphaned at an early age, was adopted by a French-Italian couple who took him to the Alps, the beginning of an unlikely journey that culminated in Beijing.

“I hope it will show our country is about more than earthquakes and other disasters.”

Jamaica, which initially crashed through the North-South Winter-Summer divide by sending a four-man bobsled team to the Calgary Games in 1988, is now going to make a snowball fight with Benjamin Alexander, who went from former DJ mixing reggae sets after the island’s debut alpine skiing at the Olympics.

Alexander’s mentor is Dudley Stokes, who drove the iconic “Cool Runnings” sleigh for Jamaica more than three decades ago, immortalized in the Disney movie of the same name.

The country’s four-man bobsled team returns to the Games for the first time in 24 years. But the team was forced to crowd-fund equipment (their slogan, “Cool Sleds for the Hottest Thing on Ice”) and continued training in the English city of Peterborough, in the absence of snow, with gyms closed during pandemic locks, by push a Mini Cooper through the streets.

“We’re getting some funny looks,” pilot Shanwayne Stephens, who is actually a lance corporal in the Royal Air Force, told Reuters. “We had people who were run over because they thought the car was broken down, and tried to help us bump the car.”

Stephens also had an exchange of views on Zoom with the Queen, who was amused by their unorthodox preparation. “I suppose this is one way to practice,” Her Majesty remarked.

Jamaica, a sprint superpower, unmatched on the summer track, has penetrated the Winter Games and sent two-man bobsled teams to five Olympics since that ’88 debut. For Beijing, they have a team of six: qualify in four-man, two-man and the new discipline monobob, a single-athlete version exclusively for women. Once again, demonstrate that the IOC is very much alive for gender equality, as it increases female participation, mostly – in the seven new opportunities starting here – by adding “mixed” competitions to the menu.

Although, to be honest, one-person bobsled, like one-person synchronized swimming back in the day, sounds a bit silly, an individual who pushes, rides and breaks all the time. While women are still excluded from four-person bobsledding at the Olympics, for no logical reason.

“It sometimes gets lonely,” said Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, Jamaican mono bobber and two-time Olympian.

Just as it is lonely to be a groundbreaking original, a Black athlete from the tropical south, or from Africa, at the Winter Olympics, where the blood runs cold in the Northern Hemisphere.

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno


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