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Casual Racism at European Championships

Aug 21, 2014  - James Parrack

Day 4 heats

“Bloody amateurs!” mumbled the veteran Dutch journalist in the press room and it was a sentiment echoed in the tribune after the women’s 4x200 free relay this morning was labelled a TEST EVENT. 

I thought I had seen it all in a swimming pool, but this was a first.  For the first time ever, I had no idea what I was commentating on at the European Championships.  9 teams had entered for the final event on the day 4 heats programme, and 4 appeared at the start for what had suddenly become a test event.  Test event? With no clue what we were seeing, we duly finished the programme, with Italy finishing just in front of France, then Spain and Switzerland in fourth.

With no one on the tribune or in the press room having any information on why the event was now not an event, we figured out amongst ourselves that with Austria having scratched, it was a straight final.  The four teams wanted to swim a time trial to select their teams for the final and there they were. 

No information to the media though.  If they had called it a time trial, we all would have understood immediately, but they didn’t.  They called it a test event, and we had no idea what was going on.  LEN eventually sent out a release an hour and a half late.  But then Pan Pacs had a B final with only two people in it, so it’s not just Berlin going a bit crazy this summer.

The heats saw Vitalina Simonova (RUS) lead in the 200m breaststroke, in front of some very skilful, long, strong, low stroking swimmers; Luca Leonardi lead two Italians in the 100m free on 48.8 ahead of the other favourites; Jeanette Ottesen (DEN) lead the field on the women’s 100m fly and Pal Joensen (FAR) on top in the men’s 800m free. 

With no other surprises the question is why have the 800m free anyway?  It’s only because the women don’t swim the 1500m in the Olympics, so FINA and LEN have corrected this anomaly, but in pursuit of fairness to all, have kept the 800s and given them to both men and women.  In my view, give the men and women the 1500m and be done with the casual sexism that had women only able to swim 800m back in the day.

And here’s the point.  Casual racism and sexism has reared its head again here after the stadium announcer on day 1, said, more or less, ”And there are the Polish.  They come here on their bikes and drive home in our cars.”  It was a very clear comment on the oldest joke in Germany that the Poles come to Germany to steal cars and drive them home.

The Polish delegation have made a formal complaint which stands at the announcer offering an apology.  It isn’t enough.  For those who think this is a storm in a teacup, here’s a hilarious joke for you: What do you say to a women with two black eyes? Nothing, you’ve already explained yourself twice.

The joke is so painful to modern day sensibilities that it is difficult to hear.  Is this the kind of casual sexism that is funny?  More commonly, Hey, are there any women here?  Well who’s looking after the children and cooking my dinner for when I get home?  Ha Ha!  It is softer, but still makes the point that women are inferior and ought not to be taking decisions.

Where does it end?  These arguments are so tired now.  The jokes have died down but the casual comments on race, religion and sexual orientation continue at so many levels they are now in 2014 in a public arena directed at a national population.

This is a problem because, as has been pointed out on SwimNews already, some boy in a locker room somewhere is suffering on his own because he is different to the others.  Some girl in a swim programme has been told she is a bit fat one day by a coach she admires and she is still carrying this comment into her behaviour and relationships as a 30 year old.  And it goes on and on and on.

There is a difference between making jokes ABOUT racism, or sexism, and making racist and sexist comments.  We need to learn the difference.

James Parrack is a Eurosport swimming commentator and co-founder of the BEST Swim Centre, Mallorca