Trump may be banned from social media (for now) but that doesn’t mean his brand of nauseating, ill-informed rants are a thing of the past. Last week, the president of Australia’s branch of the Global Powerlifting Committee, Mark Markopoulos, felt it appropriate to join the toxic party, posting a lengthy message on Facebook following the recent decision to rename ‘Coon’ cheese as ‘Cheer’ cheese.
For many, this rebrand was about as uncontroversial as saying Don Bradman was ‘pretty handy’ with a bat in hand. After all, say what you want about progressive politics, the decision to have a brand name that doubles as a derogatory term for a Black person is a head-scratcher at best.
Markopoulos had a different opinion. For the Australian head of the GPC, the decision was down to a “minority group of trouble makers [who] made a fuss”, going on to describe the company as “piss weak” for making the change. He concluded that his family, regular buyers of ‘Coon cheese’, will now “never again” buy the product, remaining steadfast in his penchant for dairy products with racist overtones.
The Facebook post was noticed by one of the kings of Aussie powerlifting, Patrick Morrison. A multiple-time national champion and Kokatha, Wirangu and Wiradjuri man, Morrison was understandably troubled by the comments. Perhaps even more so, he was troubled by the flurry of support the controversial post received. After speaking with Markopoulos only to learn “he wasn’t open to dialogue”, Morrison decided to take action.
“This post had a lot of support, which isn’t surprising given the culture of casual racism in Australia …” Morrison wrote on Instagram. “A saying that I like in this sport is ‘lifters need to vote with their feet’. So here I am voting with my feet, choosing to no longer compete in any comp that is affiliated with Markos Markopoulos.”
It was only after a second complaint that Markopoulos took down the post and replaced it with an apology. Zoe Raymond, a Yindjibarndi and Pinikura woman and powerlifting champ, lodged a formal complaint to the GPC Australia board.
The decision by both athletes to boycott future events will likely not come without sacrifice. Opting out of competition during the pair’s prime lifting years will mean a loss of income and opportunity. Which only serves to show how damaging Markopoulos’ original comments were in the first place that they warranted such a reaction.
On Tuesday, GPC Australia posted a statement expressing “its most sincere apology”, noting it will soon be undergoing an internal restructure following the incident.
Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that this scandal is far from unique in fitness circles. Last year, CrossFit was rocked by the highly insensitive comments of founder Greg Glassman about the killing of George Flloyd which prompted a reported 1000 CrossFit affiliates to end their relationship with the fitness juggernaut.
As most sporting governing bodies are grappling with the crises presented by COVID-19, it’s high time we all realise our troubles run a lot deeper than a passing pandemic.