Swiss Olympic team chief Gian Gilli had to send one of his footballers home yesterday, when news arose that he “insulted and violated the dignity of the South Korea football team as well as the South Korean people” with a racist tweet. Mind you, the tweet in discussion and the Twitter account of the athlete have been, in the meanwhile, deleted, but not quick enough to save Michel Morganella’s Olympic career.
Morganella is not the first athlete to miss out the chance of a lifetime because of racist remarks. Earlier this month, Greek triple jumper βούλα Παπαχρήστου (Voula Papachristou) insulted the whole African race, and got banned by the President of the Greek Olympic Committee, Spyros Kapralos, even before the official start of the Games. She tweeted:
“With so many Africans in Greece…at least the mosquitoes from the west Nile are eating local food”
We called her tweet the PR goof of the century, and hoped athletes from other countries had learned that poor behavior has consequences. Morganella proved us all wrong.
His deleted tweet, hours after Switzerland lost to South Korea, read:
“Je fonsde out les coreen allez sout vous lebru. Ahahahhahahaah deban zotre (translated from French slang Verlan: I’m going to f**** every Korean – go burn yourselves. Bunch of retards)”
Morganella’s late apologies expressed his regret (!), but the tweet still echoes somehow, and will always follow this athlete, in every game he will ever play against another nation. If Papachristou’s tweet read more like a stupid racist joke, Morganella’s is downright threatening and violent – the kind of behavior no one expects from a true sportsman. By comparison, the apology reads weak:
“I am sincerely sorry for the people of South Korea, for the players, but equally for the Swiss delegation and Swiss football in general. It’s clear that I’m accepting the consequences. After the disappointing result and the reaction from Korea that followed, I made a huge error.”
It’s still difficult to accept racism in any form as an “error” – it’s a drive, an instinct, if you will. Morganella’s error is that he expressed this drive, instead of suppressing it. The apology doesn’t change anything.
This whole mess reflects even more poorly on the Swiss officials, who felt they had “no alternative” but to disqualify the athlete under the terms of the International Olympic Committee’s code of conduct. Officials didn’t say that the athlete deserved to go home and they even looked for excuses for the tweet. They explained Morganella’s “error” as a result of being “provoked” by comments sent to his Twitter account after the match. These hypothetical comments sent to @morgastoss after the match probably came from his 1197 followers? Let’s face it, Morganella is no Alexander Frei.
With Twitter’s viral power, it’s puzzling that no one teaches these athletes how to use social media, what is appropriate to say and what not. But more than a PR issue, it’s puzzling that in this century, people are still driven by supremacism, bigotry, racism and prejudice, especially those who should serve as role models for generations to come. The public expects a lot from the Olympians. They are the personification of human excellence, conduit, and stamina. Morganella disgraced them all.