Race and the Winter Olympics

Race and the Winter Olympics

With the Winter Olympics starting tomorrow in Vancouver, Andrew Swift and Kayvan Farzaneh, our excellent researchers, put together a beautiful photo essay of athletes from warm-climate countries, like Taiwan, Israel, and Ghana: the outliers.

The photo essay reminded me of some choice commentary from the last winter Olympics by FP contributor (and Brooklyn-bred Bangladeshi) Reihan Salam. For those considering the racial and global socioeconomic implications of the oh-so-white winter games, the Slate piece "White snow, brown rage" is a must:  

Like the Augusta National Golf Club, the Winter Olympics is "exclusive." Paul Farhi, writing in the Washington Post, has described it as "almost exclusively the preserve of a narrow, generally wealthy, predominantly Caucasian collection of athletes and nations." Growing up, I forsook the lily-white Winter Olympics for the multi-culti Summer Games. I still vividly recall the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when my middle sister and I cheered on every wiry, diminutive American athlete of a darker hue. When you squint, a fearsome Latino bantamweight looks not unlike one of the burnt ochre Salams.

Now, let’s compare that image of a powerful brown-skinned pugilist with that of my Winter Olympic role models. In 1988, we of course had the Jamaican bobsled team, immortalized in the classic film Cool Runnings. Given the team’s lackluster performance, Stool Runnings might have been a more apt characterization. Pluck and determination count for something, to be sure. And yes, Jamaica has no snow, leading some softhearted types to give its Winter Olympians a pass. But even as an 8-year-old, I was hoping for something more. Specifically, I was hoping to see this Third World band of brothers humble their colonialist oppressors with furious bobsled action. Instead, I was told that merely finishing the race was a "triumph of the human spirit" for these stumbling boobs. Meanwhile, pasty and perfumed Hanz and Franz were high-fiving each other on the medal stand. Call it tribalism of the basest sort, but I will never apologize. I want some brown sugar, on ice.

Surely globalization, the world getting flatter, has meant that more countries have started competing in winter games, as their athletes can train abroad. I think this calls for a chart.