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.”
The publicity the incident got has triggered many reactions on social media.
In protest of Papachristou’s tweet, many have posted the photo of the civil rights salute African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed atop the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
But a Facebook group grew to more than 6,000 members in just two hours to support Papachristou: “In Greece, it’s better to for athletes to dope than to have a sense of humor,” the post read. “We feel sorry for this tragic decision of the Greek Olympic Committee.”