Photo: American sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) demonstrated during the men’s 200-meter medals at the 1968 Olympic Games.
Two weeks ago, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially announced that athletic protests will continue to be banned at the Olympics – specifically on the “playing field”, medal podiums and at official ceremonies – to comply with Rule 50 of the IOC Olympic Charter and protect the game’s “political neutrality”. “. Rule 50 states: “No demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic venue, venue or other area.” International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Handbook Section 2.2 contains similar languages; however, a spokesman confirmed to POPSUGAR that the IPC Athletic Council met with the IPC board in late May to discuss guidelines for demonstrations at the Paralympics this summer.
The IOC, along with the IOC Athlete Commission, said on April 21 that 70 percent of the 3,500 participants in the survey saw demonstrations at the opening and closing ceremonies and in the middle of the competition as “inappropriate.” And 67 percent of the athletes responded with disapproval of demonstrations on the podiums.
“Respondents were most likely to be appropriate for athletes to demonstrate or express their individual views in the media, at press conferences and in the mixed zones,” the IOC said in a statement. The Athlete Commission made recommendations to the IOC to hold a moment of solidarity against discrimination during the opening ceremony and to have inclusive messages through the Games reflected in the Olympic oath, the Olympic Village and athlete clothing. While languages such as “peace”, “respect”, “solidarity”, “inclusion” and “equality” were suggested for the athletic clothing, according to Associated Press, slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” are not allowed (POPSUGAR has reached out to the IOC to confirm).
Although the recommendations quoted last month did not mention specific movements of protest, by January 2020 the IOC’s Athletic Commission had clarified that examples of prohibited actions include: “movements of a political nature, such as a hand gesture or kneeling.” Violation of Rule 50 at the Games is likely to be investigated on a case-by-case basis and sanctions will be imposed prior to the Games, according to USA today.
Athletes allowed to demonstrate at US Olympic and Paralympic trials
Athletes participating in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Trials are allowed to demonstrate peacefully. On March 30 this year, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced participation rules for anyone wishing to demonstrate during the trials. This came after the USOPC originally said in December that it would no longer punish athletes who choose to participate in peaceful protests and support the efforts of the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice, which wants to change these long-standing policies that are introduced IOC and IPC governing bodies.
USOPC will allow people to kneel under the national anthem; wear a hat or face mask that says “Black Lives Matter”, “Trans Lives Matter” or words like “equality” and “justice”; talk about equal rights for marginalized and under-represented societies; and advocates against police discrimination. However, it will not tolerate demonstrations advocating “specifically against other people, their dignity or their rights.” This includes hate speech, racist propaganda or discriminatory language. A demonstration that violates laws, causes physical harm to others, or “physically obstructs or deters litigation or medal ceremony attendance from another participant” is also not condensed.
History of athletes protesting at the Pan American Games and Olympics
An American athlete who was reprimanded for protesting? Gwen Berry. At the Pan American Games in 2019, she raised her fist and bowed her head on the podium as she accepted a gold medal for the hammer throw. She, along with the fencer Race Imboden, who also won gold in her sport at the Pan Am Games that year and took a knee, demonstrated separately but of the same case: race and social justice. USOPC put them both on a 12-month probationary period.
Five decades earlier, the iconic protest in 1968 was from American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos. On top of the 200-meter men’s Olympic podium in Mexico City, each raised a fist while the national anthem played. Their demonstration is called the Black Power Salute, though Smith wrote in his autobiography that the action was more than that; he said it was a demonstration for human rights. What was then known as the US Olympic Committee wanted to issue a warning, but under pressure from the IOC, the men were expelled from the Games.
“The sound attenuation of athletes during the Games is in stark contrast to the importance of recognizing the participants in the Games as people first and athletes in second place.”
Fast forward to this century, and Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice stated so strongly: “The silence of athletes during the Games is in stark contrast to the importance of recognizing participants in the Games as human beings first and athletes in second place. Prohibit athletes to freely express their views during the Games, especially those from historically under-represented and minority groups, contribute to the dehumanization of athletes who are in conflict with the main Olympic and Paralympic values. “
By trying to keep the sport “neutral”, the council argued, targeting “historically marginalized and minority populations within the Olympic and Paralympic community, especially black athletes and colored athletes who have competed and excelled at the Olympic and Paralympic Games against background” of various social injustices and unrest. “
Taking into account the demonstrations we have seen from professional athletes across sports, it is unknown what such protests will bring to the summer games, as the IOC and IPC have the ultimate authority. Until then, athletes can demonstrate peacefully without fear of punishment at the Olympic and Paralympic trials in the coming months.