Fat favouritism

Imagine the furore if Australia had sent a smoker to the Olympic pool or track!

The selection would be condemned as an insult to sport, to the Olympics and to Australia, as creating a dangerous role model for young Australians, as sending a message to all Australians that it is fine to smoke, as throwing doubt on the national message that smoking kills.

The Australian team chief, Nick Green, would be very unlikely to be outraged by criticism of the smoker’s selection, and I doubt that he would describe the news reports suggesting an athlete was a smoker as disgraceful and extremely unfair.

We can be confident that Australian commentators and Australia’s most senior and successful athletes would not work themselves into a lather over a smoker’s free choice, over a person’s decision to smoke being personal.

And a smoker winning a medal would definitely not be seen as vindication of his or her decision to smoke, as a poke in the eye of everyone who even hinted that a smoker should not be selected for the Olympic swimming or track team.

After all, smoking is one of two great health problems in Australia, and quite apart from the peril to the individual it is a terrible impost on the nation’s health services and budgets.

The other great health problem in Australia is obesity and the increasing tendency for Australians, young and old, to be overweight, which brings me to Leisel Jones, who, you know, is competing for Australia in London.

If you’ve seen a photo of Jones at the Olympics or shortly before she went you will know that she is overweight, and not just a little. But news reports in Australian newspapers last Wednesday hinting that the swimmer about to compete in her fourth Olympics was overweight have prompted an extraordinary outpouring of support.

Support for the fat swimmer, that is, not for those who point to the blatantly obvious.

Nick Green described suggestions that Jones was overweight and thus not at her best as disgraceful and extremely unfair, and as evidence of double standards for men and women he pointed out that there had been no comments about weightlifter Damon Kelly’s 150 kilograms. Mr Green seems to have overlooked the different demands of swimming and weightlifting.

Current and retired senior Australian athletes were appalled that anyone could see an athlete’s weight as an issue, media commentators were tripping over their tongues to talk earnestly of respect for an individual’s body image.

Leisel Jones said she had never had so much support, that as a result of the ‘‘not-so-nice comments’’ about her weight she had been made to feel much loved.

And the consensus seems to be that her qualifying fifth fastest for the 100 metre breaststroke semi-finals and later the final proved that that those who’d hinted that Jones was overweight were out of order and, moreover, that any concerns about her weight and thus level of preparedness for competition were unwarranted. There is, however, no suggestion that failure to win a medal will confirm those concerns for the swimmer who’s won eight medals in the previous three Olympics.

I have no doubt that these people so indignantly supporting Leisel Jones’s right to be fat on what will undoubtedly be her farewell Olympics as an Australian swimmer would be the first to condemn an Australian Olympic swimmer who smoked in public. Even smoking in private, they would cry, would be impeding performance and thus be disrespectful to the Olympics and Australia.

Nick Green is right about Australians having double standards about weight, even if it is not as he sees it.

Australians, and especially those who consider themselves as elite, will rally to defend someone’s right to be fat and free of comment, yet they will loudly condemn a skinny model as skeletal, anorexic and unfit for the public eye because of the impact on teenage girls’ body image.

We can only hope Leisel Jones doesn’t win a medal.

Why are the overweight protected and the underweight fair game? Have you been a victim of this inequality?

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