LONDON – Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was banished from the Olympic Games on Wednesday after making racist comments and expressing right-wing sentiments on Twitter.
Papachristou was scheduled to fly to London next week from her training base in Athens when the Hellenic Olympic Committee – Greek’s Olympic federation – made the decision to expel her from the team. Papachristou, 23, made a racist and tasteless comment on her Twitter account, @papaxristoutj, that highlighted the number of African immigrants in Greece. “With so many Africans in Greece … at least the West Nile mosquitos will eat homemade food!!!,” Papachristou wrote. She also reposted a comment from controversial Greek politician Ilias Kasidiaris, who has strongly criticized his government’s “soft” immigration policy.
The West Nile virus was first discovered in Uganda, but cases have recently been found during the European summer. Papachristou’s tweet was met with a flood of angry responses, but she didn’t respond until Wednesday, when it became clear she might lose her spot in the Olympics. “I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account,” she said. “I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.”
By then, it was too late. Greek Olympic chiefs consulted with senior members of the Greek parliament, including aides to Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, before making their decision. Part of the reason for the expulsion was to punish Papachristou for her actions, but the decision was also made in hopes of avoiding a backlash from anti-racism protestors at the Games. The financial crisis gripping Greece – where strict austerity measures have affected the lives of millions – has forced the country to rely heavily on corporate sponsorship to fund its Olympic program. Officials feared that contributors may rethink their commitment if Papachristou remained on the team.
“There is never a good time for something like this to happen,” one source with knowledge of the decision told Yahoo! Sports. “But this is especially a bad time. Action had to happen. To not act would have been negligent and place Greece in a very negative light.” Greek officials later released an official statement announcing Papchristou would be placed "outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement."