Black Women Face a Double Standard at the Olympics—And That’s Bad for Everyone.

If you’ve been watching the 2022 Winter Olympics, it’s hard to miss the outrage around the International Olympic Committee’s decision to let Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva compete, despite testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.  

This decision comes less than a year after Sha’Carri Richardson—a star track athlete who was favored to win gold in the 2021 Olympics—was disqualified after testing positive for marijuana, which she used to cope with the death of her mother.  

Rightfully, Sha’Carri questioned the IOC’s decision.  

Sha’Carri’s treatment feels like the most obvious double standard, but last summer the IOC also targeted athletes like Caster Semenya, as well as Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, for having naturally high levels of testosterone. They were barred from running some of their signature events due to subjective hormone standards made up by the committee—I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that there is no such hormonal level standard for men. What’s more, they were told that if they wanted to compete, they’d have to take birth control to change their hormone levels. Another runner, Brianna McNeal, was also punished for not undergoing a drug test after she had just had an abortion (we talked about all the repro rights implications of these reports last year). 

It’s clear from these stories that even on the world stage, there is an obsession with controlling the bodies of women, and dictating whose body even qualifies as a woman based on made-up scientific standards. And for Black women, that scrutiny and control is heightened.  

While the IOC is just one organization, its decisions have ripple effects across sports and culture. It’s hard not to think of the recent attacks on trans students and athletes. Lawmakers across the country are trying to pass bills targeting transgender students— mostly trans girls and women—because bigots are obsessed with controlling what women do with their bodies (see: abortion bans) and with who can “be” a woman. Much like the IOC, they’re using made-up and subjective “science” to justify their claims. The NCAA even recently made transphobic changes to their policies after outside pressure.  

The blatant mistreatment of Black women in sports is an outrage, and it’s also an open door for the mistreatment of anyone who doesn’t fit a white, cisgender stereotype of what a woman and/or athlete should do or be. Whether it’s an Olympian or just a high school girl who wants to run track, they all deserve to play without discrimination or hypocritical rule changes—and they need our solidarity.