The incident of the disqualification of Greek champion Voula Papachristou form the Olympic Games of London due to a racist comment on twitter is part of a big conversation that has started in Greece after the recent national elections regarding the limits of the left wing parties.
This incident has its importance due to the fact that it happened via the social media program Twitter. It was not part of an interview in the media or part of a conversation between training sessions, as it could possibly happen some years before, but instead, it appeared as a post on Twitter.
This statement was the first statement made from a Greek athlete through the social media that has serious consequences in the real world. Similar incidents that happened in the past were just online gossip regarding politicians and journalists. It is also surprising that it was not doubted as a false statement and no one tried to justify it, as it is often happening in incidents that Olympic champions are involved in. Papachristou’s Twitter account was not hacked. Her racist comment and her “likes” on the Golden Dawn right-winger political party’s statements were read by bloggers and Twitter viewers as well as, possibly, by the National Olympic Commission of Greece. This was the first time that in Greece Twitter has been taken so seriously by officials as well as the public.
The major conversation began after the post was criticized as a justified act. The reactions were interesting because Twitters’ philosophy as a social media is that the way someone writes, he or she automatically expresses his or her political views with a bigger accuracy than voting in periodic elections, because it includes various symbolic overtones.
To begin with, the recent incident is related to the Olympic Games. Despite all the overreactions regarding the Olympic spirit (especially when these reactions come from corrupted officials) as well as the sponsorships, the Olympic Games are the biggest athletic event, globally. It is also a natural place, a village inside a big metropolis, in which the young generation of the world is meeting and lives together for a month, and this is very important.
The second symbolic overture to consider is the athletes themselves, the idea that they are their countries’ representatives that is related to the fact that they bear the national emblem. The stories regarding national emblems are often suspicious and at least in Greece, historically, those who are trying to familiarize themselves with it are the right-wingers.
In previous years, the Greeks have invested much more than they ought to on the Olympic champions, as they treated them as those representing the best that our country could show abroad. The reasons were that we ourselves had the opportunity to support the Olympic athleticism, before as well as after the Olympic Games of 2004, and our governments needed a good communicative mean with which they could identify with.
The athletes do not represent anyone but themselves and their teams. When they participate in national teams, they are just recognized as the most able in their field, not as the most moral, neither as superheroes. We, as the public applaud them, but nothing more. If this is not what is happening, we should act as we are represented form the most capable Greeks that happen to have national winnings.
Our champions though, such as Voula Papachristou, are people that due to the fact that they enjoy a higher that usual social profile, they are in the center of the public dialogue from a very young age. Justified or not, they are criticized by how they act and what they say.
It is difficult not to like Voula Papachristou. She is the girl next door, who has put many efforts to climb the ladder of recognition. On the other hand, it is easy for the public to feel close to a person that could easily be one of it. However, the champions are not persons, they do not have personal stories, but for the right-wingers they are the parachuting Africans, as for Ms. Laggard are the children in Nigeria.
The decision of the National Olympic Commission of Greece was necessarily symbolic and justified. It is not right for a person who is given the prominent position of an Olympic champion to bring racist opinions to the public dialogue, and on the other hand to prepare- in a few days that the Olympic Games are about to begin- to coincide with other citizens of the world while being tolerant towards racism. The message of the disqualification is that the rhetoric of hate is punishable and does not belong to the basic principles that we Greeks are trying to rebuild in our country. Being favoring towards racism certainly does not belong to Greek values.
Regarding the right-winger parties that search for the right placement for their ideas inside the political mainstream, this is exactly the limit. Crossing it, does not make someone conservative, but fascist.