From French commentators calling Japanese gymnasts “little pikachus” to media systematically crediting male coaches for female athletes’ achievements, the coverage of the 2016 Olympics is accumulating mishaps. Not that it’s anything new.

Once every two years, sport journalists are thrust in a spotlight of epic proportions. Every media tries to make the most of it, scrambling to find a commentator who has the faintest idea about the rules of slalom canoeing. Not only are mistakes bound to happen, but they are bound to be heard by a greater audience than ever.

One of the most disturbing effect of all this live, unfiltered, commentary are some shockingly racist comments appearing on national television. France Télévisions’ Thomas Bouhail kept comparing Japanese gymnasts to pokemons and mangas. CBC’s Byron MacDonald had to apologize after saying a Chinese swimmer “died like a pig.”

The lack of technical knowledge is forgivable. As a gymnastics fan, hearing nonsense like “piked salto with straddled legs” about a bar release certainly makes me wince, but I have to appreciate the challenge of commenting on sports – especially ones you only have a passable knowledge of – in real time.

What I take offence to is commentators who palliate their lack of knowledge with relentless remarks about every competitor’s age, appearance or nationality that are redundant, irrelevant and bordering on prejudice.

Take young Chinese gymnast Wan Yang. She was wonderfully consistent in Rio, qualified for two of the four event finals and came sixth all-around. Listening to Radio-Canada’s announcers, though, you would think that the most interesting thing about her is that she is 4’6″.

I swear more than half of their commentary about Chinese women’s gymnastics was an extended exercise in variations of the terms small or tiny. The rest of it was mostly preconceived notions about what China was good or bad at with little regard to what was actually happening at the moment.

I particularly resent one commentator discoursing on the lack of artistic delivery, amplitude and good connections in Chinese floor while Yang delivered a brilliant performance that presented none of these problems. The same commentator, in a remarkable impression of a well-meaning but obnoxious uncle, exclaimed that Yang “looks 12 or 13, ahahahah.”

Radio-Canada is not a lone sinner. It’s amazing how much of the coverage of women’s artistic gymnastics is still a long-exhausted running commentary on how young and tiny gymnasts are.

Not only is it annoying and besides the point, it’s deeply rooted in racial and gender bias.

How often have you heard about the height of male gymnasts, this year (yes, male gymnasts too are notably short)? Which brings us to Olympic coverage’s other most enraging aspect:

Ubiquitous Sexism

The world of sport journalism is very unwelcoming to women, be they athletes or journalists.

Has this issue been explored before?

Multiple times.

Do we need to keep talking about it?

Well, let’s take a look at a couple of things that actually happened in the last two weeks:

dempsey pretty penny

  • Canadian swimmer Penny Oleksiak breaks an Olympic record and wins four medals: Toronto Sun’s cover gives her the nickname “Pretty Penny.”
  • American Corey Cogdell wins a bronze medal in trapshooting (her second one in three Olympics): Chicago Tribune refers to her as “wife of a Bears’ lineman” in a tweet, omitting her name.
  • Majlinda Kelmendi wins the first Olympic medal for Kosovo, in 52Kg Judo: A BBC commentator calls the final a catfight.
  • Women’s rugby sevens make their debut at the Olympics: France TV’s commentary includes a consultant calling the French players “little darlings” and saying they are cuter and more feminine than the Americans.

I recommend you devote four minutes of your time to have a look at this spot from Vox’s Wide World of Sexism (I promise you it’s worth it).

Why are Olympic commentators so bad at commenting on women’s sports? Probably because they never do it.

A Canadian study published this year highlighted how little attention women’s sports usually get. In 2014, National newspapers only devoted 5,1% of their sports coverage to women’s sports. National sports channels had similar performances.

This is despite the fact that Canadian female athletes have excelled more than ever on the international scene in the past couple of years. As of this morning, women have won 14 of Canada’s 18 medals in Rio. Nonetheless, according to the same study, 99,5% of sponsorship sums are still awarded to male athletes.

Female athletes who actually make it to the news don’t have it that much easier. Another recent study by Cambridge University Press analyzed 20 years and seven billion words of media coverage of male and female athletes.  They found striking differences in the vocabulary used to describe them.

Male athletes were found to be often described with words like strong, fastest or great. Words often associated with their female counterparts included married, unmarried and pregnant.

Women in sports were likely to be referred to as ladies or girls, whereas the terms boys and gentlemen were rarely used.

The researchers also observed a particularity in the usage of the word women. We talk about Women’s football, women’s golf, women’s cycling. But we never see men’s football or men’s golf, do we? Usain Bolt won the 100 meter dash. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 meter dash.

BBC’s John Inverdale gave a prime example of the mentality this is linked to when he asked Andy Murray how it felt to be the first person ever to win two Olympic golds in tennis. Because Serena and Venus Williams won about four each… in Women’s tennis.

Women are a huge part of sports. They should be a huge part of the coverage of sports too.

*Featured image from the Nirvana News Youtube Channel

Yesterday footage of Kossac militia in Sochi beating and actually whipping members of the now-infamous political punk group Pussy Riot while they were performing in protest of the Olympics made its way around the mediasphere and the web. While it’s astonishing that a country already struggling with bad press would allow its police to use such archaic yet brutal means of repression in front of the world media, I find it more astonishing and impressive that the group went right back into the belly of the beast just a short time after some of their members were released from jail after being incarcerated for doing a similar type of performance/protest.

I’m equally impressed with their ability to get the music video they were filming guerilla-style when the whip-yielding cops busted in out so quickly…and presto, here it is, their video for Putin will teach you how to love, shot outside of the Sochi Olympic Games, with an English translation of the lyrics below the video:

50 billion and a gay-driven rainbow,
Rodnina and Kabaeva will pass you those flames
In prison they will teach you how to obey
Salut to all bosses, hail, duce!

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Sochi is blocked – Olympic surveillance
Special forces, weapons, crowds of cops
FSB is an argument, the police is an argumentState tv will run your applause.

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

Spring to Russia comes suddenly
Hello to the messiah as a shot from Avrora
The prosecutor will put you down
Give him some reaction and not those pretty eyes

A cage for the protests, vodka, matrioshka
Prison for May 6, more vodka and caviar
The Constitution is lynched, Vitishko’s in prison
Stability, the prison meal, the fence and the watchtower

For TV Rain they’ve shut down the airwaves
They took gay pride down the washroom
A two-ass toilet – a priority
Sentence to Russia, medium security, 6 years

Putin will teach you how to love the motherland

The motherland
The motherland
The motherland

It’s not the kind of Olympic-related publicity the Montreal Canadiens were looking for, but it’s what they got.

An as-of-yet unnamed Ukranian man tried to divert an Istambul-bound flight to the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, claiming he had explosives. Fortunately he was subdued and none of the 110 passengers were injured, so focus can now shift to the strange part of this story: he was wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey.

Make that a knockoff Montreal Canadiens jersey. Later analysis of twitter images revealed that the #11 on his shirt is red. Numbers on official Habs jerseys have never been red, so it’s a fake!

habs jersey terrorist 2

So, not only is the man in question giving a bad name to Habs fans, he didn’t even buy the official merchandise to do it.

The man was apparently intoxicated, which makes sense considering he chose to pay for a flight to Istanbul then tried to divert it to Sochi through terrorism instead of just paying for a flight to Sochi in the first place. If intoxication is not an excuse when Habs fans behave badly at home, it shouldn’t be an excuse for this guy either.

 

 

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin passed anti-gay legislation, the free world has responded with outrage. Organizations such as Pride House International have demanded boycotting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and restaurants and nightclubs owners have poured Russian vodka down the drain in solidarity with the LGBT community. Meanwhile, US-Russian relations have sunk to their worst levels since the relationship between Kennedy and Khrushchev, which culminated in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Recently Obama announced he may not attend the next major summit with Russia. Though this mainly theatrical move is designed to protest Russia granting America’s most sought after spy, Edward Snowden, temporary asylum, it also addresses a series of cold winds blowing in from Moscow, the incarceration of female punk trio Pussy Riot, Putin arming Syrian rebels and the anti-LGBT law among them.

Putin Pussy Riot portrait.

Obama may have miscalculated. Despite America’s own deficiencies upholding LGBT rights, the US represents the most powerful state partner of LGBT communities. Severing dialogue with Russia will not resolve the issues.

Russia is a global superpower. Its government operates with near impunity, is heavy-handed in subverting dissent from its citizens and censoring and suppressing free media. This perpetuates Russia’s tyranny indefinitely. Therefore, without US dialogue, there is no negotiation or solution. Russia’s LGBT community would be voiceless.

Unless the world boycotts the Sochi games (no country has done so officially yet), asking individual athletes to sacrifice their place to compete would be asking them to sacrifice the prime of their youths. Like governments ending diplomacy, individual athletes not appearing at the games to protest would end the conversation. Olympic coverage of the issue would drift or be silenced, like Tibet’s protests at Beijing 2011.

Economic sanctions and cutting US tourism to Russia is also insufficient. Though Russia’s economy is export-based, many countries rely on its iron umbrella to support their own illiberal regimes and even Ukraine, its staunch Soviet-era opponent, depends on Russian oil.

Putin would have also anticipated lost tourism revenues from Americans due to the LGBT ban. However, China is expected to surpass America in global travelers and is likely to boost Russia’s tourism industry. Xi Jinping’s first foreign visit as China’s new leader was to Russia, renewing relations between former Cold War allies.

Obama and Putin meeting.

The US will need to negotiate with Russia if it truly stands behind LGBT rights. For this to happen, Obama’s LGBT base will need to apply pressure on a presidency in its last term.

Since both Russia and the US remain on frosty terms, mediation between the two giants could work with a neutral third party acting as a buffer. A UN mediator either from a neutral state or the private sector could facilitate talks. The US and Russia could even send representatives instead of Obama and Putin themselves.

Canada, with its longer history of LGBT rights and the US’ closest ally, historically and geographically, could be an influential middleman. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Obama’s relations are lukewarm. This would have to change by whatever legal means necessary.

Putin anti-gay ban protest in Netherlands.

Ultimately, to safeguard Russia’s LGBT community, the US must give in to Putin in some areas. Unless the global community boycotts and ceases economic trade with Russia completely, the talks will have a secondary effect, perhaps one affecting the Syrian rebels.

If this doesn’t work, Obama’s reputation as the Lincoln of LGBT civil rights movement will be tarnished. Even worse, Russia’s LGBT community will suffer through its longest winter yet.

The air in Taksim Square is practically on fire as pepper spray drifts through the humid Turkish breeze. It burns not only demonstrators but also nearby shop-owners and passing tourists.

Just twenty meters outside of Taksim Square demonstrators were peacefully protesting Istanbul’s mayor’s plans to construct a mega shopping complex over Gezi Park. The makeover would uproot some 75-100 year old trees and park walls in the process.

taksim square teargass

After Turkish riot police used smoke grenades and pepper spray to disperse demonstrators, construction crews started felling the trees. The next day demonstrators returned to replant them.

Now, on its fourth day of protests, shots can be heard nearby as tear gas canisters hit the ground, emitting a 20 foot tall plume of white smoke, forming a smoke-filled wall through streets of Istanbul. A woman balancing a tray of lemon wedges passes through the crowd to serve the bloodshot and hacking demonstrators. They rub lemons across their eyes.

taksim square lemon slices

I witnessed one protester beaten bloody. Another demonstrator told me that one protester had already died in hospital on the second night of protests (though I have not been able to confirm this account).

For now the protests are an initiative spearheaded by the Taksim Platform Group. But this may be the start of a movement against Turkey’s Olympic-industrial complex.

A series of grand urban development projects are slated for years to come as Istanbul’s Summer Olympics in 2020 dauntingly approaches. An ambitious Olympic-industrial complex will set off aggressive massive projects similar in scale to what was witnessed before the Beijing Olympics in 2002.

Perhaps the most far-reaching project is the one to artificially create a second Bosphorous straight that coasts Istanbul. Turkish Prime Minister and project supporter Recep Tayyip Erdogan described it as a “crazy project.”

taksim square statuePlans are also underway to build a bridge from Poyrazkoy in the European section of Istanbul to Beykoz on the Asian side. Scheduled to be completed by 2015, officials claim it will be the longest suspension bridge in the world and literally be a bridge between east and west. Meanwhile opponents call the project wasteful excess given that Istanbul already boasts two bridges across the peninsula.

Erdogan, now one of the project’s strongest supporters had said back in 1995 when he was mayor of Istanbul, that the bridge project now being undertaken would be “murder” to Istanbul’s green area. Indeed, Istanbul is less green and more grey as concrete cement conceals more and more of its cityscape and its skyline has already begun to be littered with billboards advertising the 2020 games.

The Olympics is an important milestone for pathway to European Union membership. Endogan’s conservative government is a driving force behind Turkey’s push towards industrial modernization and presenting itself to the EU as a country that is willing, open and meets the standards of other EU nations.

But the country may not be prepared to go down such a direction, or at least willing to accept the new changes. As Turkey pushes forward towards modernization and potential EU membership it will have to not only negotiate between its people’s past, present and future but culture and religious identity as well.

As the world approaches 2020 more will likely be heard about Turkey’s politics. For now, the battle in Taksim Square continues.

*Photos by Trent Lee, more of his photos available on our Facebook page

With 204 nations taking part, nothing seems to bring the world together like the Summer Olympic Games. Nowhere was that symbolism better demonstrated than during the lighting of the Olympic cauldron last Friday night.

During the parade of nations, each country had a child carry out with them a “petal” that was later attached to a branch of the cauldron. When the individual petals were lit, they lifted up and came together to form one. Truly breathtaking.

Many people, especially westerners, give the impression that the Olympic Games are all about medals. How many medals will the US, Russia, China or whatever country you come from bring home this time? Honestly, who cares. Did you know if you took population and GDP into account you’d find the most successful nation four years ago was actually Jamaica?

The Olympics aren’t about medals at all, in spite of of how the media decides to promote it. The games are about fair play, getting along with others (despite the fierce competition) and most importantly; playing to the best of your ability. The Olympic motto is “faster, higher, stronger” not “win, win, win.”

It’s a shame the leaders of our world don’t strive to be on par with our athletes. Imagine politicians playing fair, getting along or even doing their best, what a world it might be. One only needs to look at the United States and the upcoming election to comprehend my point.

In regards to fair play, the Republicans have been playing dirty. Up to five million voters are being left off the voter rolls in various Republican led states, they have denied passage of job bills to sabotage the economy and are taking in untold millions of dollars in corporate interests thanks to Citizens United. It’s been only about winning since Obama took office.

I’ll admit I don’t watch much American television, but the little I have seen tells me both parties don’t get along when it comes to political ads, in fact you’d think they’re at war. I’ve seen advertisements using an opponent’s statement out of context and Super PAC ads claiming just about anything.

I’ve yet to see an ad that talks about past accomplishments and more importantly I haven’t seen either party try and explain how they intend to improve the country. It’s about burying the other guy, instead of raising yourself up.

It’s also quite clear that neither party leader is living up to their full potential. Mitt Romney has changed his views more than I change my shorts. How can you do your best when you can’t even decide what the best is? Obama on the other hand knows what he believes, but is too chicken to fight for it, gun control is a prime case in point.

I might be using an American example here, but the same can be said for international politics as well, whether it’s elusive peace in the Middle East, the economic situation in Europe or global warming.

Most Olympians sacrifice everything just to participate in the games, often without the prospect of winning something. They do so with the hopes of testing the human spirit and pushing the boundaries of what humans can accomplish. It’s a disgrace that our leaders aren’t willing to do the same.

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Congratulations to the Canadian women’s gymnastic team for advancing to the team finals for the first time in Canadian history!