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Greece expels Olympic athlete over racist tweets

Posted: July 25, 2012 10:30 a.m.
Updated: July 25, 2012 10:30 a.m.
 

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Triple jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from Greece's Olympic team Wednesday for her comments on Twitter mocking African immigrants and expressing support for a far-right party.

The Hellenic Olympic Committee said Wednesday that Papachristou is "placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement."

Papachristou is in Athens and has not responded to calls from The Associated Press. The committee said she was to travel to London shortly before the track events start.

Papachristou's Twitter account ((at)papaxristoutj) contains several retweets and postings of YouTube videos promoting the views of Golden Dawn, a formerly marginal extreme right party that entered the Greek Parliament in the recent two national elections — in May and June this year — by polling almost 7 percent of the vote.

But it was her attempt at a joke Sunday that went viral. Commenting on the widely reported appearance of Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes in Athens, Papachristou wrote: "With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!". Her tweet prompted thousands of negative comments that snowballed Wednesday.

Since anyone can access an unprotected Twitter account, Papachristou's YouTube links and retweets inevitably became known. Several of her retweets were original tweets by Ilias Kasidiaris, the Golden Dawn spokesman and one of the party's 18 Parliament members, who became notorious a few weeks ago for striking a woman Communist MP in the face and throwing water at another female MP during a TV talk show. Papachristou tweeted to Kassidiaris on his name day, last Friday, "Many happy years, be always strong and true!!!"

Papachristou's initial reaction to the negative comments, on Tuesday, was to tweet: "That's how I am. I laugh. I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don't press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!"

Her attitude changed completely Wednesday and she has posted five apologetic tweets in less than two hours. The last tweet, a very long one in English, which she has also posted on her Facebook account, reads: "I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.

"My dream is connected to the Olympic Games and I could not possibly participate if I did not respect their values. Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races. I would like to apologize to all my friends and fellow athletes, who I may have insulted or shamed, the National Team, as well as the people and companies who support my athletic career. Finally, I would like to apologize to my coach and my family."

Before the publication of the last tweet, Democratic Left, one of the three parties in Greece's coalition government, had published a statement assailing the "racist humor" and calling on the Hellenic Olympic Committee to expel Papachristou from the Olympics

"Let her make any miserable 'jokes' on social media while watching the games on TV. She definitely cannot represent Greece in London," the Democratic Left statement said.

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