Thursday, July 26, 2012

Welcome expulsion of Voula Papachristou from London 2012 Olympics

Economically, Greece is headed for the gallows. Greece's Prime Minister said on Tuesday that the country's economy could shrink by more than 7% this year and a recovery is not expected until 2014. With the Greek economy reportedly in a fifth year of "grinding recession", right-wing extremism has gained popularity and violence and hate crimes against immigrants and asylum seekers is the order of the day in Greece.  An offensive post on Twitter about African immigrants by Voula Papachristou, a Greek triple jumper, puts widespread disdain against immigrants in Greece into perspective.

Voula Papachristou, 23, was expelled from Greece's Olympic team for posting an offensive comment targeting African immigrants on Twitter. She wrote: "With so many Africans in Greece... At least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food!!!" (tweet translated from Greek to English).

The Twitter post may seem innocent and harmless but it is not.

It is unclear whether or not Papachristou meant African immigrants in Greece are "West Nile mosquitoes." Regardless, the bottom-line is that the Twitter update is offensive to people of African descent and contrary to fundamental principles of olympism as stated in the Olympic Charter. The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to the building of a peaceful and better world. Such a divisive statement by a member of the Olympic Movement is out of place.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch published a report about hate and xenophobic violence in Greece. The 99-page report documents the plight of immigrants in Greece and the failure of the police and the judiciary to protect them. Migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are routinely attacked - beaten and wounded - by gangs of Greeks in Athens and elsewhere.

The post by Voula Papachristou promotes anti-immigration sentiments by linking Africans with mosquitoes infected with the West Nile Virus (WNV). Such an irresponsible statement could further incite hate crimes against Greece's African, immigrant population. In 2011, an outbreak of WNV killed nine people in Greece. The virus was first discovered in Uganda in 1937. It is found in both temperate and tropical regions.

Given the precarious circumstances surrounding immigrants and asylum seekers in Greece - as highlighted by Human Rights Watch - I welcome the decision of the Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC), the governing Olympic body of Greece, to expel Voula Papachristou from London Olympics 2012. The expulsion sends a strong message that xenophobia, although widespread in Greece, has no place in a free and democratic society. I also welcome Voula Papachristou's "heartfelt" apology for her "tasteless joke."

*Photo: Yahoo Sports.

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