Dame Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic gold medallist, believes that Britain's hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games provides a unique opportunity to address discrimination against women at the highest levels of sport. "At the Beijing Olympics, there were 165 events for men and only 127 for women (with 10 mixed). Despite the IOC claiming in 2004 that ‘our ultimate goal must be 50-50 participation and the introduction of women's boxing in time for London', there will still be more events for men during the 2012 Games. Many countries still send many more men than women, and some, such as Saudi Arabia, have yet to send a woman athlete."
Why does the IOC make an exception for the headscarf? After all, in the Beijing Olympics French athletes were not even allowed to wear a badge with the slogan "for a better world" — a quotation from the Olympic Charter.
Athletes belong to many religions and hold varied political beliefs but rarely attempt to break the Olympic rules. That is what made the actions of African-American medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos in Mexico in 1968 so extraordinary. Standing on the podium waiting to receive their gold and bronze medals for the 200 metres, they each raised a black leather-gloved fist in the Black Power salute. Shoeless to represent black poverty, the US athletes walked off the podium to booing from the spectators. Carlos also wore a necklace of beads, which, he said, were "for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred."
The IOC President at the time, Avery Brundage, deemed the actions of Smith and Carlos to be a political statement unfit for the apolitical, international forum of the Olympic Games and ordered the men to be suspended from the US team and banned from the Olympic village. When the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from the Games.
The IOC's stance on political symbolism should not be confused with a lack of commitment to human rights. Four years earlier, in 1964, the IOC had taken the courageous step of banning South Africa from the 18th Olympic Games in Tokyo over its policy of apartheid. The IOC said the decision could be overturned only if South Africa renounced racial discrimination in sport.
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