They are still calling it the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, even though we are quite evidently nearly eight months into 2021 (also known as – the year things didn’t get better). The Games are happening despite widespread public and professional opinion in Japan – an Asahi Shimbun poll found that 83% of respondents were against the event being held, towns that were supposed to host athletes pulled out so as to protect their residents, the Japan Doctors Union warned against the possible creation of a new “Olympic” strain, and the country is under an official state of emergency due to the virus. Still, the tournament is very much ongoing, with checks and measures such as daily testing for athletes and the banning of spectators from the events (but not, despite what the Internet said, anti-sex cardboard beds).
But as it happens too often, the development of these new security and hygiene protocols have not necessarily been inclusive. Some athletes have come forward to talk about how the rules initially prevented them from bringing their nursing children with them. A blanket ban on travelling with their families meant that even those whose babies literally depend on being breastfed were forced to choose between their careers and their loved ones.
Aliphine Tuliamuk, a member of the U.S. Olympic women’s marathon team with a nursing child, wrote to the International Olympic Committee, resulting in a change of the rules. But Ona Carbonell, of Spain’s artistic swimming team, has since spoken about how the new provisions still demand a choice. Carbonell’s partner and child would have to quarantine in a hotel room for the duration of the Games, and she would have to leave the Olympic Village’s bubble every time feeding was required, thus taking repeated risks. Whether a nursing athlete “chooses” to leave her child at home or to negotiate quarantine rules, the situation adds mental stress that could affect her performance. As tennis champion Naomi Osaka recently demonstrated: the psychological costs of public-facing careers are huge. Especially if you’re a woman.
During the qualifications stage for the Tokyo Olympics, Germany’s women’s gymnastics team wore full-body unitards as a protest against attire that sexualises athletes. Meanwhile, the European Beach Handball Championships fined the Norwegian women’s team for wearing shorts rather than the mandated bikini bottoms (the musician P!nk announced that she would bear the fines).
There are rumours that Yoshiro Mori, a former Prime Minister of Japan who served as chief of the Tokyo Olympics organising committee before resigning in February, may return as honorary advisor. What will this mean? Mori resigned due to a backlash over a series of sexist comments, including that meeting with women in senior positions would be time-consuming as “women talk too much”. Hiroshi Sasaki, who was the creative director of the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, similarly resigned after it emerged that he had body-shamed entertainer Naomi Watanabe by remarking to colleagues that she should perform as an “Olympig”. Sexism isn’t a competitive sport – or is it? Sometimes it certainly feels like it, what with the sporting world and the rest of the world constantly trying to set the next worst record for gender-based discrimination.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 29th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.