Opportunities for Sportsmanship at the 2016 Olympics: Hope Solo, Islam el-Shehaby, and Penny Oleksiak
Hope Solo's Disappointing Behavior at the Olympics
I honestly felt bad for Hope Solo when the Olympic Games of 2016 kicked off.
When I heard that there were people in the stands during the Olympic Football Tournament chanting "Zika! Zika!" shortly after she took the field, I cringed. Disagree with someone all you like, but to wish a virus on them is over-the-top cruel. I believed that the goalkeeper for the United States Women's Soccer team deserved far better, regardless of her prior behavior.
While I still wouldn't wish for anything bad to happen to her, I was profoundly disappointed when she called the Swedish national team cowards. The US Women's team was bounced from Olympic contention by their Swedish counterparts based on penalties during their quarterfinal match, and it's clear that Hope Solo felt some sour grapes as a result.
Thankfully, there were people who made it clear that Solo's remarks were solely her own, and there were those who criticized Solo for demonstrating clear unsportsmanlike conduct. Unfortunately, the IOC is not likely to punish Solo for having said anything, which might send a bad message to those who heard or read her comments. However, there are kids all over the world who watch the Olympics and FIFA; is she just looking for media coverage? If so, why isn't she saying and doing something more positive?
Islam el-Shehaby Missed an Opportunity for Sportsmanship
"Can't ask me to shake the hand of someone from this state," the Egyptian judoka reportedly said about his refusal to shake his Israeli competitor's hand after he suffered a loss to the Israeli at the Rio Olympics.
Now, el-Shehaby is facing potential sanctions for the lack of respect shown following the match. According to Jerusalem Post, the Egyptian Olympic Committee is dealing with the fallout for the breach of protocol and will be making a decision of some sort regarding el-Shehaby's behavior in the next 48 hours.
Tensions have been high between Egypt and Israel for decades, but it was hoped that the competition between Egypt and Israel would bring out the best in the two athletes. While Or Sasson took his position opposite Islam el-Shehaby and extended his hand following the match, as protocol would dictate, el-Shehaby refused, and even when the referee told el-Shehaby to bow, the Egyptian judoka would only nod his head.
Although Egypt-Israeli relations are likely to continue for some time, it would have been a great sign that the competition between the two nations at the Olympics could have transcended the tensions, and that the two athletes could see past their differing ideologies and demonstrate the sportsmanship that the Olympics is supposed to be known for.
Penny Oleksiak: Sharing Her Medal With a Teammate
16-year-old Canadian swimming phenom Penny Oleksiak has regularly surprised those who have been watching the Games. She came in as a relatively unknown quantity and has suddenly become an historic athlete. She is currently the only Canadian athlete who has won four medals in one Summer Games, and the first Olympic medalist to have been born this century.
She has also shown behavior that is most decidedly Olympian. Much has certainly been made of the 16-year-old's surprising maturity for someone her age, and rightfully so. Her athletic prowess should definitely be applauded, but it is her sportsmanship which should also be recognized.
Shortly after the Canadian team won bronze in the 4X100 freestyle relay, they were interviewed by media, and Michelle Williams, the alternate for the team who had swum in some of the preliminary heats, was standing with them. At one point - the point at which Oleksiak's mom Allison said she really felt proud of her medal-winning daughter - Oleksiak turned and put her bronze medal around Williams' neck. Sure, Williams is going to get a bronze of her own, as she swum in the preliminaries, but it was a touching gesture on Oleksiak's part.
How's that for sportsmanship?
Oleksiak knew Williams had put in a lot of hard work in the run up to the event, and she saluted it properly. It was a moment that neither would soon forget, and one that many may have missed, had Oleksiak's mother not mentioned it in a recent interview.
Oleksiak knew that Williams was partly responsible for the team making it to the finals, and as such, it was right to acknowledge her part in that achievement. It was an honorable move.
That's what the Games should be about - not politics, not insults, but about honor and respect.
How come a 16-year-old got the message when supposed adults didn't?
So, What Do We Do?
It's small wonder there are many kids who look at the examples set by athletes like Hope Solo and Islam el-Shehaby and behave by the standard we set.
However, kids like Penny Oleksiak, who let Michelle Williams have that feeling of a bronze around her neck (Williams will get a medal as well, given she swum in the relay heats that morning) instead of keeping the glory to herself, should serve as a tribute and a sense of hope that the generation that's coming up is not getting just the poor messages sent by some of the adults who are supposed to be serving as role models.
When parents and coaches are looking at the world today and wondering how to inspire kids to push harder and aim higher without dragging others down, it's kids like Oleksiak who can help lead the way, not people too blinded by their own competitiveness and their sense of politics to actually properly represent the sports they're representing for their countries.
It's that sense of helping others find the high road that the Olympics should be about, not nationalist statements or just poor sportsmanlike conduct.
That's what we should help our kids find: dignity. Integrity. Self-control.
They're all traits that can help ensuing generations become empowered and lead the way.