The Commonwealth Games, the biggest summer multi-sport competition outside of the Olympics (that doesn’t include the United States), could allow athlete activism, such as taking a knee, at its next edition in 2022 in Birmingham, Great Britain.
Commonwealth Games CEO David Grevemberg was asked Thursday if an athlete who kneels two years from now would be punished.
He did not directly answer yes or no, but he cited “the profound impact” of sprinter Cathy Freeman, who carried the Australian and Aboriginal flags when she won gold at the Commonwealth Games in 1994 in Victoria, British Columbia.
Freeman, of Aboriginal descent, did the same as the face of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, bringing attention to the nation’s indigenous people.
“How do we get that balance right, what that means, and how can we work with athletes to ensure that their platform and their voice is heard?” Grevemberg said. “What that looks like on the field of play, I would say right now I wouldn’t want to be presumptuous in terms of going through that consultation, what athletes want, what are we able to accomplish, but I do think we are in a very, very unique place in the world right now, and I think there are some unique opportunities to really expand our views on this. I would have to say I think that conversation is critical. We need to find solutions, not build walls, but build bridges right now.”
The Commonwealth Games include athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations, notably Australia, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa and those that make up Great Britain at the Olympics — England, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland (whose athletes can represent Great Britain or Ireland at the Olympics). Most of the sports are also in the Olympics, but some are not, such as lawn bowls.
On Wednesday, IOC President Thomas Bach 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.
Grevemberg also emphasized discussion.
“We are comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation,” he said. “We need to embrace that.
“I think the Black Lives Matter movement is actually challenging all institutions to really look introspectively at what we can do to be more fair, more free, have better equality.
“It’s been something that we had a lot of questions on in terms of why are you politicizing sport? Actually, we’re humanizing the conversation. We’re giving people the opportunity to express freedom of expression, freedom of association, but we also have some very strong policies on non-discrimination and respect and so forth. People say, ‘Aren’t you opening up the Pandora’s box, the floodgates?’ No, we are respecting people’s rights to voice their opinions and so forth.”
Two Olympics — in Tokyo in 2021 and Beijing in 2022 — will take place before the next Commonwealth Games.
“I don’t want us to be too prescriptive at this point in time because this is a real moving dialogue,” Grevemberg said. “I think it would be too presumptuous of me to say this is how it’s going to look.”
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