August 26, 2008

The Colors of Gold

So the Olympics are over. Boo hoo. No seriously, it was kind of fun having an excuse roll out of bed in the morning and park ourselves in front of the TV until noon in our PJ’s to watch the evening events live on TV. For whatever reason stations here, including ESPN Brasil and it’s competitor SportsTV didn’t get into the whole primetime rebroadcasts. Everything was live and if you missed it, you missed it. It was interesting to get the Brazilian take on it all too. They of course focused on the Brazilian athletes, even the ones coming in 8th or 9th and the events that Brazil usually performs well in – soccer, volleyball, beach volley. (How is that an Olympic sport by the way?) The commentators always found a way to put a positive spin on even the worst performing events. “He came in last, but it was the best time of his career!” “7th Place! Last Olympics they were 10th!”

And I have to admit, I was cheering for Brazil in that string of USA vs. Brazil gold medal showdowns in the final days. C was irritated. He said I wasn’t supposed to cheer against my country, but he just really wanted to have a little fun provoking me as the adversary. But the US already had a bunch of medals and I really wanted to see Brazil win too. In the end, it was only the Brazilian women’s volleyball team who managed to beat the US for the gold. Women’s soccer, men and women’s beach volley (whatever) and men’s volleyball all got their little samba butts beat by the American rivals. Oh well.

One thing that was hard to overlook was the stark racial lines some of the sports were divided along. The teams of the women’s soccer final were very racially homogonous on both sides. The Brazilian team was all dark and the American team was, with one exception, overwhelmingly blonde. In Brazil, even though soccer is the national pastime and enjoyed and played by people up and down the economic ladder, the majority of the good players come out of the poorer (and thereby darker) classes and it is still seen as a sport that many a poor kid pins their hopes and dreams upon for getting a leg up out of the ghetto (not unlike basketball in the US). If the Olympics are at all representative of who is playing soccer in the United States, for girls at least, it seems that it is a sport that belongs predominately to white middle class girls with bouncy, blond ponytails. (Who can really, seriously play. I defy anyone to come up with some blonde jokes about them.) It's interesting that given Brazil’s passion for soccer (futebol), it has invested so very little, close to nil, in women’s soccer. Although I bet if there were blonde girls on the team – or even if the current players came back from the Eurpean teams they play on and bleached their hair, they would start to garner a larger audience at home.

The Brazilian men’s volleyball team on the other hand was all white and according to the commentators, the players had all trained at universities. Ditto for the US men’s team. And the beach volleyball, did anyone see a dark skinned person out there in the sand? How about the swimming events? Of course there are other events/sports that are dominated by black athletes - track and field, basketball are only two that pop into my head. And of course there are white basketball players and black swimmers but still it is a curious litmus test of the economics and stereotyping that comes along with sports in racially diverse countries like the US and Brazil.

Anyway, I don’t know if my little antidotal observations have any truth to them or what I’m even trying to point out here. And I’m sure there are a bunch of sociologists who have written up some very wordy and nicely documented research into this and have something much more intelligent to say about it all. But I do remember that in the end it was the women’s volleyball that appeared to be the most diverse and balanced sport – at least from what I saw on both the US and Brazilian teams, and with that that nice colorful mix, those Brazilian girls kicked some American blonde, brown and black, pony-tailed butts. Fireworks when off all over the city when they won gold. Just like on soccer-Sundays.

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