Tokyo 2020: Olympic athletes targeted by false and misleading claims



By Shruti Menon
BBC reality check

Image source, Reuters
Legend, Simone Biles withdrew from some Olympic Games

As the Tokyo Olympics draw to a close, social media posts have spread misleading content about some of the contestants and the events they have participated in.

We have selected some of the most widely shared examples.

No, Simone Biles was not prevented from taking medication

A viral Facebook post – now with a warning flag on the social media platform – falsely claims that the star American gymnast has stopped participating in certain events because she was not allowed to take medication for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).

Simone Biles revealed in 2016 that she was taking medication for it.

When she pulled out of the women’s gymnastics team final last week, she said it was to focus on her sanity.

But unfounded claims spread widely on social media that she was unable to take ADHD medications because they are banned in Japan.

It is true that Japan bans certain drugs used for ADHD, but there are special exemptions for athletes competing in the Olympics.

But more importantly, Team USA told us that the claim about the drug was not true because they were not using it.

Speaking after winning a bronze medal in the beam final in Tokyo, Biles herself has faced speculation head-on and said she had not taken ADHD medication since 2017.

No, a Saudi athlete is not dead after losing to an Israeli

False claims about the death of Saudi judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani have gone viral on social media after her loss to her Israeli opponent, Raz Hershko.

The posts claimed she suffered a heart attack because she was bullied and abused online after losing.

But this is wrong and the athlete is alive and well.

Qahtani had been criticized by social media users for agreeing to compete with an Israeli, after other Arab contestants withdrew from another judo event because they did not want to do the same.

Rumors began to circulate after a fake website masquerading as Saudi Sabq, a popular Arab online news portal, published an article with the claim.

It was signed by Saudi Sabq Deputy Editor-in-Chief Abdullah Al-Barqawi.

But Mr Barqawi issued a warning on Twitter on false information attributed to it and to the online portal.

He did not mention the specific allegation about the athlete, but Saudi Olympic Committee officials denied the information and said she was in very good health.

She herself opened up about the game a day later, saying she wasn’t interested in the controversy surrounding it.

No, Japanese table tennis players did not violate Covid guidelines

Image source, Empics

The mixed doubles table tennis final became the subject of heated discussion on Chinese social media, when their pair lost to a Japanese duo.

The actions of gold medal-winning Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito in blowing the ball and touching the table during the match allegedly violated Covid’s safety rules.

On Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, the hashtag “Mima Ito touches the table” has been viewed more than 13 million times, with some users claiming that Japanese players should not have won.

A Chinese-language website said their actions were “ignored by the arbitrator.”

There are Covid Safety Recommendations from the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), which advise players not to “wipe their hands on the table” and “breathe on the ball for the sticky”.

Some players blow on the ball to make sure it is as dry as possible when serving.

The ITTF says a violation of Covid rules will result in the athlete being fined or suspended from a competition, so we have reached out to them to ask questions about this match.

They put us in touch with top referee Werner Thury, who explained that the way Ito touched the table during his serve did not amount to “wiping his hands on the surface of the table”.

He also said Mizutani’s breath did not violate Covid guidelines as his mouth was not close enough to the ball.

The ITTF has also made it clear to us that while potential violations of the Covid guidelines are investigated, this is a separate process and the outcome of a match is decided on points only.

No, a banner behind an Indian medalist did not thank PM Modi

In India, a social media post went viral showing silver medalist weightlifter Mirabai Chanu at an official congratulatory ceremony, with a banner thanking Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visible in the background.

The banner shows a photo of Mr. Modi. There is also a Hindi text on the banner that reads: “Thank you Mr. Modi for getting a medal at Mirabai Chanu.”

Some of those who shared the post asked, “Did Mirabai Chanu get the medal because of her hard work or did Mr. Modi get it for her?”

The image has been manipulated and the text of thanks to Mr. Modi has been added.

Image source, Press Information Office, India

The original banner contains an image of Mr. Modi and text with the athlete’s name, but nothing to thank the Prime Minister.

The original appears on some government social media accounts and in a government press release.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Nour and Wanyuan Song.

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