Greek Olympian Voula Papachristou has learned the hard way that Twitter accounts and participation in high-profile sporting events are uneasy bedfellows, especially for jocks with underdeveloped self-edit functions.
The 23-year-old triple jumper will not be accompanying the Greek team to the London 2012 Olympics due to enraged blowback to a July 23 post on Papachristou’s Twitter account:
“With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”
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The blonde track star (who was not expected to medal at the London games) was in Athens, Greece, when she posted her musings on the dietary preferences of the West Nile mosquitoes. A current outbreak of West Nile virus has sickened 180 people in Athens and killed one man.
Along with her West Nile comment, Papachristou also retweeted a message from Ilias Kasidiaris, a tough-on-immigration politician with Greece’s right-wing Golden Dawn party. For comparison, this retweet would be akin to an American athlete endorsing the border patrol policies of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
Papachristou’s tweets triggered accusations that she was a Nazi and demands that she be removed from Greece’s 2012 Olympic team.
In her defense, and in an attempt to deflate the swelling balloon of indignation caused by her remarks, Papachristou revisited Twitter on Tuesday:
“That's how I am. I laugh. I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don't press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!”
“I apologize if I insulted people!” she tweeted. “I have no mingling with politics!!! I am only athlete!!”
The explanation, the desire to move on, the apology, and perhaps also Papachristou’s willingness to throw her fellow athletes under the bus as racially insensitive jokers, failed to save her Olympic dream from being popped. On Wednesday, the Hellenic Olympic Committee said that Papachristou had been “placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic Movement.”
The International Olympic Committee’s communication director, Mark Adams, backed the Greek position: “I think we certainly would have [expelled Papachristou]. The rules have been around long before social media. So there’s nothing new in the rules, but clearly in a new era of social media [one] has to be more careful about the way one expresses’s one self.”
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines racial as “of, relating to or based on race; existing or occurring between races.” Racism is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” Callous means “insensitive, indifferent, unsympathetic.”
Using these definitions as a guide, was Voula Papachristou’s racially charged West Nile tweet racist or callous? And is her Olympic banishment just or an overreaction? Talk it out in COMMENTS.
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Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice. Email Allan | @Allan_MacDonell