Nationalism, Ethnicity and Gender in the Olympics

Nadzeya OstapchukBen Ritchie

The London Olympics have now been and gone, and by most accounts it was a pretty successful one for the New Zealand team, winning six gold medals. It was a successful one for casual sports observers such as myself, too – the competition itself was fascinating – a truly amazing range of physiques and athletic ability were on display. The story behind the last of New Zealand’s medals to be awarded – Valerie Adams’ shot put gold was belatedly presented in an Auckland ceremony on the 19th of September – is a fascinating microcosm of the role of elite athletes in modern capitalist society, and the many-faceted exploitation that is critical for the functioning of the current incarnation of the Olympic Games and modern elite sports in general.

Adams finished the competition in second place, behind her Belarusian rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk, only for Ostapchuk to be disqualified days later for returning two positive tests for the banned steroid metenolone. But Adams involvement in the Olympics was already subject to a degree of media sensationalism before she even made her first throw – an administrative mishap by the New Zealand Olympic Committee lead to some doubt as to whether Adams, the defending Olympic champion would even be able to participate. This was gold for the New Zealand media. Very few of their market know the first thing about shot put, so to have so much material to draw on enabled outlets like Fairfax to generate revenue with headlines such as ‘Adams entry blunder needs full NZOC inquiry’ and an out of context photo of a frustrated Adams in support. How often would you normally read an article about the correct forms being filled out for a shot put event? But, by exploiting the general enthusiasm for sports generated by the Olympics hype, this was front page news in New Zealand. [Read more…]