Global Citizen is a community of people like you

People who want to learn about and take action on the world’s biggest challenges. Extreme poverty ends with you.

From left, Nigerian boblsedders Akuoma Omeoga, Seun Adigun and Ngozi Onwumere pose for a photo provided by Under Armour. The American-born former track athletes will field the first bobsled team from the entire continent of Africa in Pyeongchang.
Under Armour/AP

These Olympic Athletes Are Breaking Barriers and Winning Medals

“United in our diversity, we are stronger than all the forces that want to divide us.”

With these words, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach launched the 2018 Olympic Games Friday

Notorious for their overwhelming whiteness, straightness, and Europeanness, the Winter Olympics are beginning to shed their reputation for having a lack of diversity, and it’s all thanks to bold athletes who have overcome systemic barriers. 

Take Action: Stand Against Bias with Olympian Zahra Lari

These athletes include the largest-ever contingent of African athletes, the first-ever woman to drive a four-man bobsled, and two of the first openly gay athletes, according to TIME Magazine.

But there’s still a long way to go to achieve full diversity. 

For example, just over 8% of all US athletes at this year’s games are people of color. This compares favorably to 2002, when only 5% of athletes were people of color, but not to the overall minority population in the US, which was 37.9% in 2014. 

Embed from Getty Images

This year has seen numerous trailblazing athletes speak out about the importance of diversity at the Winter Olympics. 

Read More: 18 Times Politics Trumped Sport in Olympic Games’ History

“You might have a young black girl watching these Winter Olympic sports thinking, ‘Well, there’s not anyone like me out there. I don’t know if there’s a place for me in these sports,'” Erin Jackson, the first black woman to compete for the U.S. in long-track speedskating, told TIME. “But I’m looking forward to being in the Winter Olympics and showing, OK, we do have some representation in these sports.”

“The more and more women become successful, the more and more we are going to break through these barriers,” Elana Meyers Taylor, the first-ever female bobsled driver, said. 

“I don’t think I could have ever come out as a gay athlete 30 years ago and expected to be successful in my sport,” Gus Kenworthy, one of the first-ever openly gay athletes to compete, said. “My story’s indicative of change.”

Figure skater Adam Rippon also celebrated the LGBTQ representation at the games.

“Tonight I walked in the #OpeningCeremony and got to watch my old friend @Yunaaaa light the Olympic flame,” Rippon Tweeted. “Representing the USA is one of the greatest honors of my life and being able to do it as my authentic self makes it all so much sweeter.”

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which includes goal number 10, reduced inequalities. Ensuring equal opportunities and ending discrimination means making space for different identities in all fields, from politics to sports. You can join us and take action on this issue here

Read More: Zahra Lari Is Determined to Be the 1st Person from her Country at the Winter Olympics

Non-US Olympic athletes have also overcome similarly challenging barriers. 

The Nigerian women’s bobsled team had to rely on individual donations through a crowdfunding site they set up in order to buy equipment to train for the games, Quartz reports

Embed from Getty Images

“There is no reason why people should feel like there’s only one lane they need to stay in,” one of the women, Seun Adigun Adigun, told TIME. “Diversity explains to people that there are no limits in this life.”

This year’s Olympic Games are showing progress, but also indicate just how more lanes can still open up, ultimately paving the way for a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable future.