Voula Papachristou Thrown Off Greek Olympic Team After Bad Joke

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from the Olympics over a joke.

CSM (“The tweet that ousted a Greek Olympian: youthful mistake or slur?“):

A controversial tweet by Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou and her ensuing expulsion from the London Olympics has set off a firestorm in her home country.

On Sunday, Ms. Papachristou tweeted that “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes from the West Nile will be having homemade food.”

Her tweet became widely known on Greek social media today, and the Greek Olympic Committee decided she was out, saying that her tweet was “contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”

To some, it was evidence of racism by an athlete who has shown sympathy in the past by the ultranationalist Golden Dawn party, which many perceive as neo-Nazi for its anti-immigrant rhetoric and the Nazi salutes its followers perform in public. Her actions, which include posting YouTube videos of Golden Dawn and retweeting posts by Golden Dawn members, have made many argue that the mosquito tweet wasn’t just a bad joke.

“No matter how old you are, when you offend the Olympic values, you can’t be a member of the Olympic team,” said head of the Greek Olympic team, Isidoros Kouvelos, in a television interview with Greece’s Skai TV.

But others argued that Papachristou’s youth should have been taken into consideration.

“She’s just a kid that made a mistake,” said Papachristou’s coach, Giorgos Pomaski, “I respect the Olympic Committee’s decision. I just want people to know that Voula doesn’t know what racism is. Believe me, I know what racism is, because I’m from Bulgaria.”

After her tweet spread, Papachristou followed up with an apology: “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account,” she wrote. “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach on human rights.”

I’m not sure that making a connection between Africans, some of whom are white, and West Nile mosquitoes is racist or even in bad taste. Out of context, I’m not even sure whether it’s funny; it could be if there’s an epidemic of such mosquitoes at the Olympic compound. Then again, I’m only vaguely familiar with the various European neo-Nazi parties and had never heard of this woman before yesterday, so that baggage may well deservedly color the interpretation of the tweet.

That said, so what? Surely, there are other racists at the Olympics—and not just from Bulgaria. (Who knew they were world famous for racism?) The fact that Twitter now makes every dumbass thought that goes through these people’s heads public shouldn’t mean that their political views are part of the Games. The Olympics is about athletic competition, not politics.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Sports
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Montanareddog says:

    I’m not sure that making a connection between Africans, some of whom are white, and West Nile mosquitoes is racist or even in bad taste.

    That is a surprisingly disingenuous remark for you, Jim. Not all residents of Harlem are black, but if you make a joke mentioning Harlem and watermelons, everybody will get the subtext.

    As for not being familiar with European neo-Nazi movements, fair enough. But Golden Dawn are a particularly vile bunch. It was their (male, ex-military) spokesman who punched two female opponents on a round table TV show recently

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Montanareddog: Even if we assume “Africans” means “black Africans,” the joke isn’t inherently racist. Reading with no other context, I’d just assume it was a joke about the mosquitoes.

    I’m obviously familiar with European neo-Nazi movements in general, but only have anything like working knowledge of the German and French varieties. I’m not surprised they exist in Greece as well, although I’ve never heard of this one or the incident you mention. Close association with such a group obviously colors her remarks (no pun intended).

  3. OzarkHillBilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    Even if we assume “Africans” means “black Africans,” the joke isn’t inherently racist. Reading with no other context, I’d just assume it was a joke about the mosquitoes.

    James, than you need to spend a little time in Europe, especially on the Mediterranean coast. The explosion of racism there is truly astounding, but considering the economic troubles, not at all surprising. I guarantee you, this joke was nothing but racist.

  4. Nikki says:

    The fact that Twitter now makes every dumbass thought that goes through these people’s heads public shouldn’t mean that their political views are part of the Games.

    Perhaps people who use Twitter and who, very shortly, will become the focus of world-wide attention should be more careful about what they tweet, wouldn’t you say?

  5. Montanareddog says:

    I’ve never heard of this one or the incident you mention

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi6TbLmeFoQ

  6. SKI says:

    Surely, there are other racists at the Olympics—and not just from Bulgaria. (Who knew they were world famous for racism)

    Jews.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Her remarks were stupid and can easily be construed as racist.

    Yet, I can think of no reason why she should be banned from competing.

  8. Jeremy says:

    The Olympics is about athletic competition, not politics.

    Er, I don’t think that’s correct. Yes, it’s about athletic competition, but not just that.

  9. Franklin says:

    I’ve read all the comments here, but I guess I still don’t see the racism aspect to it. I get that there’s a lot of black people in Africa, I also get that there are racists in Europe. But why, specifically, is the joke racist? Is it implying that black people attract bugs more?

  10. Maxwell James says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m not surprised they exist in Greece as well, although I’ve never heard of this one or the incident you mention.

    You might want to read up on Golden Dawn then – they have been in the news a lot and are something of a big deal. IIRC they got 7% in the last Greek parliamentary elections, a very large jump over prior years.

  11. Thomas's Paine says:

    Some people think land that “their” people have lived on for a long time to be “theirs.” Anyone coming in whose ancestors didn’t bleed for it are often ostracized. Pair with this a resistance to assimilate, and culture becomes cause for clashes.

  12. ExplainToMe says:

    @Franklin: “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes from the West Nile will be having homemade food.”

    I have to ask the same question. What, about the statement was racist? People just look for something to jump on. Am I racist when camping in a campground full of people and if some of them are from the U.S. “south” and I say, “I’ll bet there’s biscuits and gravy cooking somewhere in this campground” given all the “southern folk”…..most likely there is and I’d hope it was my campsite, I love biscuits and gravy and I’m from the North…Yes, I am clearly racist. I don’t imply or even suggest that there aren’t many forms and instances of racism, but I’m just not seeing it here.