priv200808An Olympic Perspective on Diversity
Special Web column for Asian Week Aug 25, 2008
Obama has focused Americans on the conversation of diversity and excellence. We are a nation that carefully selects school superintendents, democratic convention delegates, and appoint public officials and hire executives carefully to reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of America. But the Olympics show us that all of our conventional wisdom about affirmative action and radical liberation are dead wrong.
Can we truly celebrate a winning basketball team of diverse talent when all of them are African Americans? Can a gymnastics team composed completely of European American women be fair? In this age of Title IX and gender equity, why are Olympic athletics judged without regard to racial proportionality in outcomes? When we have committed to create standards where “all will succeed” without ranking people, why do we continue to specially recognize only the best 3 athletes?
Why did China, whose athletes are almost completely of one ethnic group, the Han Chinese, get the most gold medals, while Japan beat diverse America in women’s softball? Why were women relegated to softball instead of baseball? The United States clearly can credit the wealth of our economic system for winning the most medals, yet some of the fastest and best runners come from economically disadvantaged nations such as Jamaica and Kenya. Why was there no outrage at the dominance of Nordic peoples in the javelin toss, or West Europeans in mountain biking? Blaming the plight of the have-nots on the bad intentions of the have-groups is widely applied to world economics, politics and education, but why not athletics?
The Olympics is not about creating a world where everyone is proficient, or is given an equal opportunity to win at every sport. When it’s not just about participating, it’s about competing to be the best in the world. And who is the best is not determined by what race or gender you are, or how free or controlled or wealthy your country is, but by a host of factors, none of which is necessarily fair. The best may come from the north or the south, by someone from a wealthy or a less affluent nation, from a very large or very small country, by someone with heritage from any of the world’s continents. When it comes down to it, nobody is equal to anybody else, and only the few can ever be the best.
No athlete declares their race, ethnicity or heritage. Nobody compiles statistics to prove which peoples suffered from unfair discrimination that must be rectified by race-based remedies on the part of Olympic committee or judges. No one is required to take a high stakes test to meet a “high” standard of fitness or suffer the consequences. Now as John Lennon once sung, the Olympics can let us imagine a world or nation where we live in peace in harmony and we can celebrate both excellence of the few and the participation of the many, without hurting each other and arguing over who is to blame why some groups get more than others.