In 1968, the Summer Olympics was held in Mexico City. On October 16, won the 200 meter dash in world record time. John Carlos finished third. During the medal ceremony, as shown in the picture on the left, they raised their hands in a black power salute. Smith wore a black scarf on his neck as a symbol of black pride. The reason that Carlos raised his left hand was that he had forgotten to bring black gloves and used Smith’s left handed glove.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the two runners from the games and eventually expelled them from Olympic Village. The two faced abuse and death threats when they returned home. Brent Musburger, who was then a writer for the Chicago American called the two “a couple of black-skinned storm troopers”.
Their act of bravery can not be diminished. America, in 1968, was a country in turmoil. The last few years had seen riots in major cities, there was the Viet Nam war and there were nation wide protests. There was also the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on tv, with comedy routines doing satire on the American establishment. America, for all its flaws, was and still is a democracy. Though how long America remains a democracy is a chirp for another time.
The woman on the right is Elnaz Rekabi. She is mountain climbing athlete from Iran. Iran is a theocracy. Iran has seen a number of protests since the theocracy was formed back in 1979. The latest series of protests began after the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16. She had been jailed for improperly wearing a hijab. The protests have so far resulted in the deaths of 230 people, including two 16 year old girls who died under mysterious circumstances. The Iranian regime claims that one of the girls committed suicide by jumping off a building. Evidence appears to indicate that she was pushed.
Rekabi, 33 years old, has won over 80 medals, as a competitor. Over the past weekend, she competed in the Sport Climbing Asian Championship finals, in Seoul, South Korea. She finished a respectable fourth. She competed without wearing a hijab. Videos of her doing so have gone viral, throughout the world, including in Iran. While the two American athletes knew they were returning to a democratic country, Rekabi is from a country where the current regime is undertaking a fierce crackdown on the current protests. Her future is unknown. If she returns, to Iran, she could face anything from being disbarred from competing in any sports to captivity and death.
As mentioned, America is currently a democracy. Yet women’s reproductive rights are being threatened. Women are facing prosecution for exercising that right. Harsh as that may seem, women in Iran have lived under the boot of theocracy for 43 years. They are facing death in their fight for basic freedoms. Elnaz Rekabi has just become one of the faces of that fight. Hopefully she does not end up as a martyr.