John Carlos, U.S. athletes want new policy for Olympic protests

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John Carlos and the group that protects the rights of U.S. Olympians and Paralympians called on the IOC to abolish the Olympic Charter’s current rule on athlete protests and other forms of expression and develop a new policy.

“Athletes will no longer be silenced,” read a letter written by six leaders of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Advisory Council and Carlos, the 1968 Olympic 200m bronze medalist who raised a black-gloved first on the medal stand for human rights. “The IOC and IPC [International Paralympic Committee] cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism.”

The U.S. athletes group wants a new policy, developed in collaboration with worldwide athlete representatives, that protects athletes’ freedom of expression at the Olympics and Paralympics. The letter did not mention specific expressions such as taking a knee or raising a fist.

Earlier in June, the IOC 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.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states in part, “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.”

Earlier in June, USOPC 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.”

In 1968, 200m gold medalist Tommie Smith and 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.

Carlos, who turned 75 on June 5, said two weeks ago that he supports athlete demonstrations done respectfully.

“As long as you don’t do an obscene statement,” he told NBC Sports sprint analyst Ato Boldon. “I think you earned your right, as an Olympian, a guy that sacrificed so much to do so much for so many in order just to have that medal.

“As long as it’s not distasteful, and I don’t think the Olympic Committee, international or national, would have the right to take your 15 minutes out of the sun and tell you what you can and what you can’t do.”

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 four weeks ago “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” Berry said.

“The Olympic and Paralympic movement simultaneously honors athletes like John Carlos and Tommie Smith, displaying them in museums and praising their Olympic values, while prohibiting current athletes from following in their footsteps,” read the letter from the U.S. athletes group. “The IOC and IPC cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism.

“Let us work together to create a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights and the 7 principles of Olympism.”

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