Sunday, 21 August 2016


In this blogpost, I make the claim that the Olympic Games show the benefits of ethno-diversity and citizen empowerment 

The United States of America (USA) extended its dominance in the medals count at the Rio 2016 Olympics. It remains the country with the most gold medals and overall medals tally in the Summer Games. There are many possible reasons to explain American supremacy in the summer games, from superiority of resources and training regimes to identification of children with specific physical attributes to excel in particular fields. In this blog, I make the claim that the all these factors are enhanced by the USA’s ethnic diversity and citizen empowerment. Whilst the USA is not even close to being the most ethnically diverse country in the world, their ability to make use of their ethnic diversity in the context having the third biggest population in the world accounts for their superiority. Further, they are able to empower their citizens, from an early age, to be able to play a meaningful role through sport. In an era of the parlance of shutting down borders, building walls and extreme vetting, continued US success at the summer games is a shining example of the benefits of inclusivity as opposed to exceptionalism.

The USA had won 116 medals (43 of them being gold) at the Rio Olympics at the time of checking. The next country in the order of ranking was China with 70 and the United Kingdom with 66. The population of China is in excess of 4 times the population of the USA – making the point that one needs more than just numbers. The USA benefits from a high population and considerable diversity in its population. It is certainly more diverse than China, ranking 85th on James Fearon’s Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country, with China coming in 138th (Zimbabwe is 101st). There is much to be said about harnessing a global pool of talent within a single country. This is not new – people remarked at the ethno-diversity of the French football team that won the Soccer World Cup in 1998 and the UEFA European Championship in 2000. From diversity always emerges the best of human talent and ability. This phenomenon replicates itself at various levels. At my high school, the performance of the football team was always a reflection of the scouting conducted at football tournaments. The more talent that was recruited from other schools, the higher the performance. The more inclusive we are of ‘others’ the more we excel as a people.


Thus the normative lesson to be drawn is one of inclusivity and participation. The less we include others the less we succeed. However, as already pointed out, it is not enough to simply have people, they must be meaningfully included in order to reach their full potential. There is still need to show leadership through inclusion. This is evident not just from sport but in the workplace as well. It is not enough to have people in the workplace or have their physical presence in meetings. A meaningful contribution to decision making and reaching out for their opinions not merely to legitimize the leadership’s already established views is key in ensuring that institutions benefit from the pool of talent they have. Abraak Saati’s work on the Participation Myth offers a great model for different forms of participation from mere tokenism to full participation.[1] 

It is only in circumstances where individuals have no fear of participation that institutions benefit from their members. However, far too often, in the workplace as in countries, institutions suffer from asymmetry of skill and capacity cultivated by a culture of fear. Even in the courtroom, it can sometimes feel as though the legal practitioners are passive participants since the bench has decided on the verdict ahead of proceedings. Similarly, democracy is modelled based on the assumption that an informed and active citizen is not afraid in participating in his own governance. Since the government is often the first to impede the citizen from doing so, the country does not benefit from its own talent. Thus the two step process of including others and then giving them meaningful role is never achieved.

The British television show QI (quite interesting) not only awards points for correct answers but deducts them for commonly believed and yet wrongful answers. As such, quite often, the most silent participants win the most points. I make the counter claim. It is only when people can actively speak out and are given a meaningful role that countries, like the USA with its strong free speech protections, can make full use of their human resources and succeed on the international level.

David T Hofisi is a human rights lawyer and writes in his personal capacity

[1] See The Participation Myth Outcomes of participatory constitution
building processes on democracy Abrak Saati at page 22


  1. Great point however for some leaders be it in the work place they fear being overtaken hence by trying to protect their territory and positions, they make sure there is no room for free participation and expression by those they lead.

  2. Great point however for some leaders be it in the work place they fear being overtaken hence by trying to protect their territory and positions, they make sure there is no room for free participation and expression by those they lead.

    1. More attention to power retention as opposed to resource maximisation? A sign of leadership deficits I would say...real power surely is not petty