Let our athletes show the stuff we’re made of


Brazil's Rafaela Silva bites her gold medal as she celebrates on the podium of the women's -57kg judo contest of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016. PHOTO | TODHIFUMI KITAMURA |  AFP

Brazil’s Rafaela Silva bites her gold medal as she celebrates on the podium of the women’s -57kg judo contest of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016. PHOTO | TODHIFUMI KITAMURA | AFP


By Roy Gachuhi


The athletics programme begins Friday and, as expected, my remaining housemates are observing my habits to note any changes in behavioural patterns.


But I am keeping my cards close to my chest. However, I can disclose that I have worked my fingers to the bone to make sure that my workload from today henceforth is much lighter than it has been so far.


My doctor, who is not here with me in Rio, has not advised me to take time off since my health has not deteriorated and I am, therefore, hesitant to ask for lighter duties. But I hope for the best.


As our flagship programme gets underway, I bid farewell to the brave rugby sevens team, which departs after losing all three of their opening matches.


We had all hoped for better. Let us be grateful for the sterling performances that brought them here in the first place and remember that whoever came to the Olympics is already world class.


From me, no regrets, just guilt that I wasn’t able to be there to cheer them on owing to circumstances beyond control. The Nigerians have a saying I like: “Tomorrow go better.”


There is an organisation that I have made friends with here in Rio. I was introduced to them by my hosts, Agencia Publica. They are called Catalytic Communities and run a project called RioOnWatch. It is an invaluable resource on the lot of Rio’s underclass, life in the favelas. It gives voice to the voiceless, like we have tried to do with documentary films such as “The Last Fight” at Content House.




I watched Brazil win their first Olympic gold medal through the woman judoka, Rafaela Silva. Nothing unusual with the burst of emotion – until RioOnWatch put it all in perspective.


They published the story of Silva and it resonates squarely of so many of our poor whose only hope for a way out is through sport. Black women in Brazil, I have come to learn, are at the end of the food chain: demeaned, discriminated against, blocked from accessing basic human rights.


Silva represented Brazil at 2012 London Olympics and was disqualified for an irregular manoeuvre. Of the many racist text messages she received from some of her countrymen was this: “The place for a monkey is in a cage. You are not an Olympian.”


It hurt in the bones. But for the encouragement of her coach, she wanted to drop judo there and then. She grew up in one of Rio’s toughest favelas, one by the reverential name City of God. She was put in free judo classes to help her shield her from a life of drugs and crime. The only life Rafaela has known is that of racism, poverty and daily struggle.


But on Monday she became an Olympic champion. The people who called her monkey are now silent. And the last shall be the first. Well, everywhere, life is full of heroism and indeed, as the great preacher, who had been to the mountain top and had a dream said, the arm of the moral universe bends towards justice.


Well done, Silva, for enduring, for not allowing yourself to be beaten down by bigots – and for winning on behalf of all the poor girls and boys in the favelas of the world.


Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.