Taming the Hydra during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Posted on: August 5, 2021 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Taming the Hydra during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

[Research help for this post was provided by Elon students Amelia Arcaro-Burbridge and Trevor Molin]

Shining the light on positive examples
My last several blog posts [chapters] have illustrated the nature of the Hydra and have painted a dismal picture of oppressive privileging forces imposing their will on many types of marginalized groups all across the globe and back through time. Through the millennia there has been a constant tug of war between those who are driven by hate, greed, and gluttony and those who act motivated by love, compassion, and humility. The ‘moral arc of the universe’ may indeed bend toward justice, but for every positive movement there are negative counter actions, the former barely winning the battle over the long term.

Recognizing positive actions -making them part of the news cycle- is a necessary step we need to support first to give ourselves hope, but perhaps more importantly by shining a light on these positives actions we are providing positive examples for those who want to join the cause of furthering our move toward a humanity that creates and nurtures pathways to dignity for all humans.

This exercise in identifying examples of ‘taming the Hydra’ reinforces the key premise that all eight heads of the Hydra are always present, and all are interconnected by various forms of toxic othering.

Taming the Hydra during the Olympics
Taming the Hydra can take many forms and is being done day by day everywhere across the globe. The Olympic Games bring together athletes, officials, fans, and the press from every continent and from most of our 206 nations. These games bring together different cultures, and hence many varied norms, traditions. As such provide a setting where ideas about how humans should treat other humans are out on the stage. A positive consequence of this cultural mixture is that one culture’s norms, policies and laws which are seen as oppressive are called out by those from cultures or nations who are more progressive. Olympic tradition is that all cultures should be respected, but that respect can be situationally withdrawn when universal human rights are violated. The discussion over the line between what is a cultural norm that should be respected and one which is a legitimate violation of human rights is ongoing, vigorous, and has constant political overtones. Asking hard questions is at the very core of understanding and taming the Hydra. The hard questions raised at the games are critical and illuminating.

With that spirit in mind, below are some examples of actions taken during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. Included are actions taken by individuals, organizations, and allies.

As with all social change efforts, there are competing forces; efforts to tame the Hydra are simultaneously being counteracted by those intended to maintain the status quo or worse to feed the Hydra poison so that toxic othering is reinforced. We have thus included examples of those individuals and organizations who act in such a way as to stifle positive social change.

Our reading of these Olympics is that this tug of war between taming and feeding is being won by those who stand for social justice and our evidence; the Hydra is being tamed, act by heroic act, in real time. We invite you to click on each hyperlink to read in more detail. Keep in mind that the Hydra is inherently intersectional and some actions may address more than one head of the Hydra.

Please note that by including any of the hyperlinks below I am not endorsing that news outlet nor all of the points made in the article.

Please join me
The list of links below far from complete, and I would love to update and make it more thorough. I invite everyone who reads this post to send to me via email (arcaro@elon.edu) any additional links which illustrate actions of individuals or organizations addressing the various heads of the Hydra.

Patriarchy -fighting sexism

U.S. Olympic Fencer, Accused of Sexual Misconduct, Kept Apart From Team
Norwegian women’s beach handball team fined for not playing in bikinis

Pink offers to pay bikini bottoms fine for Norway women’s handball team
Wearing unitards, German gymnasts promote comfort, take stand against sexualization


Race/ethnicity – confronting racial, ethnic, and religious based marginalization

Olympic Pressure And How Black Athletes Balance Being Applauded Yet Feared
The Olympics Rely On, but Don’t Support, Black Girl Magic

Race Imboden: What US Olympic fencer’s black X symbol on his hand means

Costa Rica’s Luciana Alvarado raises fist during gymnastics floor routine in support of Black Lives Matter

Belarusian sprinter reaches Poland after defying order home

Colonialism/Paternalism insuring representation from all peoples

IOC Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020

Why is there a Refugee Olympic Team?

Hetero/cisnormativity – gender and sexuality inclusivity 

First openly transgender Olympians are competing in Tokyo
There may be more Olympians who identify as LGBTQ than ever before. But there are limits to inclusion

Record Number of LGBTQ Athletes Set to Compete at the Tokyo Olympics

Classism/class privilege

Sha’Carri Richardson, a Track Sensation, Tests Positive for Marijuana

How many sports are in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics? Which are the new ones?

An unsavory history of the Olympic Games in five outfits

Ableism (Physical, Mental, and Intellectual)

‘OK not to be OK’: Mental health takes top role at Olympics

The Paralympic Games


Fmr. Olympic gymnast breaks retirement, challenges ageism in pro-sports 

Anthropocentrism – questioning human centered actions

Even With Cardboard Beds And Recycled Medals, Olympics Take Flak Over The Environment

Tokyo Olympics Medals Were Made With Tons of Recycled Smartphones, Laptops Donated by the Public

There are so many more articles to include and there will be updates made to this post.

Woke Olympics?
The Olympic games provide an amazing spotlight on cultural differences -and similarities. It is no surprise that in this #MeToo, #BLM, #Decolonize world these Olympics would generate attention on issues about the privileging forces represented by the heads of the Hydra. We can learn much about our species and its increasingly globalized culture by observing what is written and broadcast before, during, and after the games. In a very disparaging fashion American comedian and ‘commentator’ Bill Maher described these as the ‘woke Olympics’. I agree with him that these Olympics are calling out privileging forces that exist around the world in every institution, including sports, but rather than disparaging these efforts I respect and encourage this critical reflection on the human condition. I think applying critical Hydra theory can help us understand more deeply all of the links above.


Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He is currently working on second and third books tentatively titled "Understanding and taming the Hydra" and "Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector".

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