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Soccer players union pledges support for Olympic protesters

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GENEVA (AP) — Soccer players who defy Olympic rules by making protest gestures at the 2020 Tokyo Games will be supported by their global union.

Freedom of speech on issues like anti-discrimination and gender equality needs to be protected from “a hypocritical rule,” FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said Wednesday at a United Nations labor agency conference.

The International Olympic Committee revived the debate on athlete rights this month by publishing details of protests in venues and medal ceremonies that can lead to disciplinary action, including being sent home from Tokyo.

MORE: IOC publishes protest guidelines

Taking a knee, hand gestures with political meaning — such as raised fist salutes — and snubbing a fellow medalist on the podium are specific types of demonstrations long prohibited by Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter.

“We feel their freedom of expression overrides any other interest that may be in play here,” said Baer-Hoffmann, whose union represents 65,000 professional players.

He praised players who have fueled “these fundamental debates” in soccer by speaking out about racism and equal pay for women.

“They are trailblazers but, on the one hand, they are being welcomed by people to take this forward and make sport appear as a change agent in society,” Baer-Hoffmann said. “And, on the other, now we have a hypocritical rule that says if you do it in our venues, we think this is a sanctionable offense.”

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” the union official said on the sidelines of an International Labor Organization conference about athlete working conditions, also attended by Olympic officials.

The IOC says political neutrality is key to keeping the Olympics a place where athletes worldwide can compete together in peace.

Political opinions can be expressed in Olympic venue interviews and on social media accounts, according to the new guidelines drafted after consultation by the IOC athletes’ commission.

The Tokyo Games soccer tournaments are a 16-team event for men and 12 for women . They kick off on July 22, two days before the opening ceremony, and end on Aug. 8.

The United States will be the women’s favorite if the team advances from a regional qualifying tournament. The team’s co-captain in qualifying is Megan Rapinoe, who has taken a strong stand speaking out on social issues.

MORE: Rapinoe kneels during anthem before U.S. game in 2016

“If the IOC decides to discipline players on this occasion, we will certainly stand by them to defend them,” Baer-Hoffmann said.

Not all of the more than 10,000 athletes in Tokyo, competing in 33 sports, have the same collective protection as soccer players.

“There is a danger you will have two classes of athletes at the Olympics,” said Brendan Schwab, executive director of the World Players Association, citing those who either have or lack resources to defend themselves.

Schwab said the Sport and Rights Alliance, a coalition of trade unions and human rights groups, could offer help. Its members campaigned to release Bahraini soccer player Hakeem al-Araibi from detention in Thailand last year.

Those who took a stand at past Olympics — including American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska at the 1968 Mexico City Games — had “suffered terribly for their protest” before being championed decades later, Schwab said.

“We believe the Olympic movement is strong enough, and in fact it is stronger,” he said, “if it provides a safe space for political protest in the course of the Olympic Games.”

MORE: Smith, Carlos part of U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame class

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement

New dates set for Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics in 2021

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The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021. The Paralympics will be Aug 24-Sept 5.

“These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a press release. The new dates “also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs. Additionally, they will provide sufficient time to finish the qualification process.”

The original Olympic Opening Ceremony was to be July 24, 2020, before the Games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Organizers said last Tuesday that the Games would be moved to some time in 2021 before the end of summer.

Until Monday’s announcement, it was possible the Olympics could have been scheduled for the spring for the first time since the 1928 Amsterdam Games. IOC President Thomas Bach said keeping the July-August timeframe had “unanimous support” from international sport federations.

The new Olympic dates overlap with the original dates for the 2021 World Championships in aquatics (July 16-Aug. 1) and track and field (Aug. 6-15). Both federations said last week it was possible their world championships dates could be moved to accommodate new Olympic dates.

Cornel Marculescu, the executive director of the international aquatics federation (FINA), said last week there was no chance of its worlds in Fukuoka, Japan, being bumped back to 2022.

“No, no, no, no, no, no,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “If they do [the Olympics] in summer, then we (will have to change) the dates (of the world championships).”

World Athletics issued a further update after Monday’s Olympic announcement, saying it began working with organizers of its 2021 World Championships in Eugene, Ore., on new dates in 2022.

The Tokyo Olympics will end fewer than six months before the start of the Beijing Winter Games, which open Feb. 4, 2022. It marks the shortest break between a Summer and Winter Games since they were last held in the same year in 1992.

Non-medal Olympic events typically start one or two days before the Opening Ceremony. The original Tokyo Olympic schedule had softball games kicking off competition two days before the Opening Ceremony.

The new competition schedule for the Tokyo Games in 2021 has not been released.

It is the earliest start to a Summer Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games began July 19.

The original Paralympic Opening Ceremony was to be Aug. 25, 2020.

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MORE: Qualified athletes go into limbo with Tokyo postponement