IOC President Thomas Bach, when asked about athletes potentially protesting at the Tokyo Olympics, said the IOC Athletes’ Commission will talk with athletes around the world to explore how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind.
“The framework has been set, and now let the Athletes’ Commission and let the athletes discuss among themselves and then come up with the relevant proposals,” Bach said Wednesday. “We also agree at the same time with the Athletes’ Commission that we must always respect the Olympic spirit, and this means that we must make a difference between such support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter and, potentially, divisive demonstrations.”
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
In January, the IOC Athletes’ Commission published guidelines pertaining to Rule 50. It stated that “protests and demonstrations” are not permitted at Olympic venues, during medal ceremonies, at Opening and Closing Ceremonies and at the Athletes’ Village. “Protests” included “gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.”
The guidelines further stated:
“It is important, on both a personal and a global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations. If we do not, the life’s work of the athletes around us could be tarnished, and the world would quickly no longer be able to look at us competing and living respectfully together, as conflicts drive a wedge between individuals, groups and nations. That is not to say that you should be silent about the issues you care deeply about, and below you will find a list of places where you can express your views at the Olympic Games. …
The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance. Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity. It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values.”
On Monday, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland announced she was creating an athlete-led group to “challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress, including your right to protest. We will also advocate for change globally.”
Last August, U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry and fencer Race Imboden raised a fist and kneeled, respectively, on podiums at the Pan American Games in Peru. At the time, the USOPC put them on 12-month probation. Hirshland apologized to Berry last week “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” Berry said.
In 1968, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home from the Mexico City Games after raising their gloved fists during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In 2019, Smith and Carlos were inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
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