USOPC will not sanction athletes for social justice protests

The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice wants the rules prohibiting athlete demonstrations at the Olympic and Paralympic Games be changed
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Today, the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice released its first set of recommendations, advocating that the rules prohibiting athlete protests and demonstrations at the Olympic and Paralympic Games be changed. The announcement was made with the support of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which said it will “not sanction Team USA athletes for peacefully and respectfully demonstrating in support of racial and social justice.”

In its statement, the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice wrote, “The silencing of athletes during the Games is in stark contrast to the importance of recognizing participants in the Games as humans first and athletes second. Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.”

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.” The IPC Paralympic Handbook has a similar rule (referred to as Section 2.2).

As part of its recommendations, the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice noted that potential amendments to Rule 50/Section 2.2 should consider the context of ethical responsibility. “We do not consider hate speech, racist propaganda, and discriminatory remarks that are aimed at eliminating the rights and dignity of historically marginalized and minoritized populations as meeting the requirements for ethical speech… We call on the IOC and IPC to recognize that protests focused on human rights and social justice initiatives do not qualify as ‘divisive disruptions’ of the Games and should not be met with the same consequences as hate speech, the promotion of racist ideology, or expressions of discriminatory propaganda.”

The Team USA Council also discussed the way human rights have been politicized, noting, “We want to make unmistakably clear that human rights are not political; yet, they have been politicized both in the U.S. and globally to perpetuate the wrongful and dehumanizing myth of sport as an inherently neutral domain.”

As part of today’s announcement, the USOPC expressed its support for the recommendations made by the Council. “The USOPC values the voices of Team USA athletes and believes that their right to advocate for racial and social justice, and be a positive force for change, absolutely aligns with the fundamental values of equality that define Team USA and the Olympic and Paralympic movements,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland wrote.

Hirshland announced the creation of the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice in June, saying then that the athlete-led group would “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.”

The 44-member Team USA Council consists of 23 active athletes, five alumni representatives, five NGB representatives, five USOPC liaisons, and six external members. John Carlos, who famously demonstrated alongside Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Games and was then sent home by the U.S. Olympic Committee, is a member of the steering committee on protests and demonstrations that was responsible for the recommendations that were announced today.

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