1904 to 2012 – Anthropology Days at the Olympics

Did you know that at the 1904 Olympic games, on the 12th and 13th August, there were “Anthropology Days” which were a ‘scientific’ experiment by Anthropologists to see how the indigenous and “savages” compared to white men in sports. These were undignified and basically disgraceful events, chosen by the White men who obviously were going to be advantaged compared to the untrained Others. The Olympics founder, Baron de Coubertin, prophetically noted that such a charade

“will of course lose its appeal when black men, red men, and yellow men learn to run, jump, and throw, and leave the white men behind them.”

And look at the Olympics today. We are on the second day of the Olympics and Brazil have 3 medals compared to our British 0. No White 100m Athlete can really compete with Usain Bolt. Hearing about these Anthropology days fills me with disgust, not just by the discriminatory nature of those experiments but by the fact that the word Anthropology is associated with such an ethnocentric concept. What Anthropology really is about is the complete opposite – it is not about the degrading of other nations or studying them like caged, barbaric animals, far from it.

Boris Johnson said that Anthropologists will have a field day at these games and with its effects and legacies for years after, and from reading people’s responses to this I feel that I have to clarify a few things. Yes as the name suggests we study Humans in all aspects but we do not do it in a way that looks to see which nation is better than another. We admire the Olympic Games for the bringing together of so many countries and cultures (there were lots of countries in the opening ceremony that I hadn’t heard of!) and learning about their diversity. In fact as a biological anthropologist I have found it fascinating to see how our bodies can be so adapted for particular sports let alone how far we can push the limits. There are so many subfields of Anthropology that the Olympic Games fits into, but there is no place for ethnocentrism or discrimination.

The world is more globalised than ever and with a billion people expected to watch the Olympics interested in their own countries progress, the competition against other nations and the host city, I hope that 100 years on from the “Anthropology Days” of 1904, people understand and realise the true meaning and importance of Anthropology.

A massive apology again for the lack of posts recently, I can’t guarantee posts everyday  – my London 2012 schedule just won’t permit it but please visit this blog when you can to catch up. I cannot wait to do an ethnography concerning a few Olympic events that I’m going to see and I am still working on some great posts about my time in the Indian slums.

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