Olympic athletes will face discipline for taking a knee, raising their fist, or displaying any political logos at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo after the International Olympic Committee upheld a rule prohibiting it.
The decision to ban all protests came after the IOC surveyed over 3500 Olympic athletes across all 41 summer sporting events this past year. The results of the survey revealed that 70% of athletes believe that it is inappropriate to demonstrate their political views in opening or closing ceremonies and on the field of play. Additionally, 67% said that even the podium is an inappropriate place to express personal opinions.
After conducting the survey, the IOC chose to uphold rule number 50, which states that any demonstration of “political, religious or racial propaganda” is prohibited at the Olympic Games. Furthermore, political logos and slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” have been forbidden, but simpler slogans like “Peace” and “Equality” are still permitted.
The Olympic Games are receiving public backlash for their continued support of the rule, even though the majority of athletes voted in favour of the ban. Many people were surprised at the IOC’s decision, since there has been a surge of athlete protests in recent years.
Rule #50 was created in 1975 after Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two American track and field athletes, raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico to protest against racism in the United States. The IOC did not approve of their stance and expelled them from the Olympic Games altogether. The two received death threats and media criticism for their act.
Even though protesting in sports has become much more prevalent and the rules against it have loosened, athlete protests are nothing we haven’t seen in the past. Althetes such as Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali had all stood up against racism in the 1950’s and 60’s.
In recent years, we have seen plenty of athletes fight against injustice, such as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the American National Anthem to protest police brutality. Just last year, we saw league wide protests in the NBA, NHL, NFL, MLB and other American sports leagues, where games were suspended, players knelt during anthems and slogans were printed on jerseys. These protests came as a result of racial injustice in the United States.
The IOC says rule 50 will be kept in place to “keep the field of play, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations”. They claim that the reason for this is so “every athlete can enjoy the experience of the Olympic Games without any divisive disruption”.
A few organizations spoke out against the IOC’s decision, including the executive director of the World Players Association, Brendan Schwab. He stated that “Unless and until [protesting] occurs, the human rights of vulnerable athletes will be at risk”. Global Athlete also released a statement saying that the IOC”s decision is a “sign of an outdated sport system that continues to suppress athletes’ fundamental rights”.
Moreover, the United States Olympic Committee and several American Olympians were disappointed with the IOC’s decision, such as Gwen Berry, an American track and field athlete, “Athletes must continue to bring awareness to the systemic oppression blacks have endured for centuries,” she said.
“The IOC are hypocrites who continue to silence athletes for capital gain.”
Cover image: Derrick Brutel