Olympic Inequalities Explained

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At the Huffington Post, David J. Leonard argues that the answer to "Why are so many sports so white?" has everything to do with institutionalized racism and inequality.

The reason why America's Olympic team is overwhelmingly white, the reason why there are so few athletes of color within many Olympics sports, is the persistent impact of racism, segregation, and institutional violence.

Embodying class inequalities, a history of discrimination, and the realities of residential segregation, many Olympic sports are dominated by whites because the spaces, the neighborhoods, the schools and the very institutions that produce those recreational and elite athletes are racially segregated. Whether swimming, diving, or gymnastics, the pipeline to the Olympics is one where youth of color find difficult entry, if not outright exclusion.

We see the consequences of inequality and segregation as it relates to our high school sports, our recreation, leisure, and play. Research has shown that people of color and particularly lower-income communities have fewer opportunities for physical activity. For example, several studies published within the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM) found "that unsafe neighborhoods, poor design and a lack of open spaces and well constructed parks make it difficult for children and families in low-income and minority communities to be physically active." Likewise, citing the study from Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) entitled "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010" Angela Glover Blackwell focuses on the structural impediments to a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise. "As the report illustrates, where we live, learn, work and play has absolutely everything to do with how we live. Low-income families of color are too often disconnected from the very amenities conducive to leading healthier lives, such as clean air, safe parks, grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, and affordable, reliable transportation options that offer access to those parks and supermarkets." Communities of color, and America's poor, are disconnected from the very facilities and resources necessary to become a great champion.


Read David J. Leonard's entire piece at the Huffington Post.

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David J. Leonard is an associate professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman.