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Disrespect at the Olympics

Brazilians make noise when they’re together. It’s a cultural trait that is often joyful. But visiting Olympic athletes have found some of the noise to be distracting, disrespectful, and even vicious. Booing during sports events has been an issue at the Rio Games.

There are many reasons to boo that are almost universally acknowledged. Shaming an athlete or team that has cheated and protesting a bad call made by an official are among those reasons.

Ultimately, no matter how or why it’s done, booing distracts opponents.

For example, Russia and other “doping” countries have been met with more than a few boos. But fewer cultures accept booing as a means to continually discourage the opposing team during an event — or even send them “bad luck,” as one Brazilian spectator told NBC she was doing while yelling during a volleyball match.

In fact, Brazilians booed the U.S. women’s beach volleyball team every time they served. Fencing, swimming, tennis, and rugby are a few other sports affected by local jeering.

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Hope Solo, too, was booed every time she touched the soccer ball because Brazilians resented her well-publicized fear of Zika. Cameroonian boxer Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam received elaborate, demonstrative booing that he said might have affected the judges’ calls against him. But German tennis player Dustin Brown, who played against Thomas Bellucci, a local, received mixed “reviews” from Brazilian spectators. He was booed when he twisted an ankle during a match and cheered when he stood to be taken to the hospital.

At times, apart from booing an athlete or team they simply dislike, Brazilians boo simply to undermine “big dog” teams such as the USA and Russia because, traditionally, they root for underdogs if they have no other “dog” in the proverbial fight.

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Ultimately, no matter how or why it’s done, booing distracts opponents. “We boo to destabilize the other team,” another spectator explained to NBC. When told that seemed disrespectful, she added “Oh, no, it’s not disrespectful. It’s just part of the game.” Maybe in Brazil — but not in most other countries. Is the booing appropriate simply because Brazilians believe it is?

Most outside of Brazil would say no. Dr. Rhonda Cohen, a sports psychologist at London’s Middlesex University, told the BBC, “The Olympics has always been synonymous with international respect. So booing from a crowd can be distracting and prevent them performing at their best.”

Consider, too, that Brazilians boo even their own — as if that levels the playing field, so to speak. Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (commonly known only as Neymar) has been booed viciously every time he sets foot on the field. Fans ruthlessly blame him for the team’s multiple losses and poor performances. He said recently at a press conference, visibly irritated, “Off the field, it’s my life. I’m a 24-year-old guy — why can’t I go out to parties? You have to hold me accountable for what I do on the pitch.”

Some believe Brazilians don’t understand just how disrespectful other countries think their booing is. One Reddit user wrote, for instance, “I actually think that if they realized that people viewed it that way, that they would stop doing it so much.”

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And maybe Brazilians should stop. Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede probably had a point when he said, “Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster.”

The Olympics is an international event — not a local competition. This is not a time for universal “when in Rome” mentalities. The entire world is gathering as a symbol of friendly, skilled, impartial competition to promote peace and understanding.

Though a host country might find booing to distract and undermine athletes culturally acceptable, it should respect the fact that many more countries call it horrible sportsmanship.