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IOC details rules on political protests at Olympics

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — No taking a knee at the Olympics. No hand gestures with political meaning. No disrespect at medal ceremonies.

The International Olympic Committee published guidelines Thursday specifying which types of athlete protests will not be allowed at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Athletes are prohibited by the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 from taking a political stand in the field of play — like the raised fists by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

Today’s Olympians know more about which acts of “divisive disruption” will lead to disciplinary action in Tokyo. They can still express political opinions in official media settings or on social media accounts.

“We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules,” said Kirsty Coventry, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which oversaw the new three-page document. “The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”

Coventry, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, is now Zimbabwe’s sports minister.

Athletes who break protest rules at the July 24-Aug. 9 Tokyo Games face three rounds of disciplinary action — by the IOC, a sport’s governing body and a national Olympic body.

The new guidelines come after two American athletes were reprimanded by the U.S. Olympic Committee for medal podium protests at the Pan American Games in August in Lima, Peru.

Fencer Race Imboden kneeled and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist in protest. Both were put on probation for 12 months, a period that covers the Tokyo Olympics.

Other protests in 2019 included swimmers from Australia and Britain refusing to join world championship gold medalist Sun Yang on the podium because the Chinese star has been implicated in doping violations.

A political gesture at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics went unpunished in the men’s marathon. Silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa crossed his wrists at the finish line to show support with freedom-seeking protesters in his home region of Ethiopia.

“It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference,” the IOC document states, urging “the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance.”

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Olympic Opening Ceremony Parade of Nations order changed slightly

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The Opening Ceremony Parade of Nations will look slightly different in Tokyo on July 24.

Greece, which traditionally marches in first as the nation that founded the Olympics, will now be followed by the Refugee Olympic Team, which debuted in Rio.

The Refugee team, which marches under the Olympic Flag, moves up some 200 places in the marching order. In 2016, the refugee team was next to last, just before the host nation Brazil.

In Tokyo, the refugee team will be followed by the usual order of nations in alphabetical order. Then in another change, future Olympic hosts will be moved to the end of the order, just before host nation Japan.

The last three nations to march will be the U.S. (2028 Olympic host Los Angeles), France (2024 Olympic host Paris) and Japan.

“To increase the special focus that future hosts already enjoy over the course of their Games preparations by giving them prominence in the stadium and, obviously, with a global audience of several billion,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said. “Equally, with the Refugee Olympic Team, we want to give that some big prominence.”

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Gene testing to catch months-old doping may be available for 2020 Olympics

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A new test to catch blood doping long after it happens might be ready in time for the Olympics in Tokyo, IOC president Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

“With research on genetic sequencing progressing well, this new approach could be a ground-breaking method to detect blood doping, weeks or even months after it took place,” Bach said at the World Conference on Doping in Sport, which opened Tuesday in Katowice, Poland.

The test has been in development since 2006 by University of Brighton professor Yannis Pitsiladis, The Guardian reported.

Bach said the IOC has taken steps to preserve past samples for future testing that can give deserving medalists their due years after the fact.

“We want the cheats to never feel safe, any time or anywhere,” Bach said.

The “cheats” aren’t just the athletes, Bach warned. Anti-doping work must also look at those who work with athletes, he said, which may require help from governments.

“Whether it was the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia or the investigations around Operation Aderlass or the most recent allegations against the coach of the former Nike Oregon Project all these cases, as different as they are, highlight the urgent need to focus much more on the athlete’s entourage.

“The athlete is not the only culprit. The athlete is supported and sometimes even driven to or forced into doping by a secretive network which may include coaches, agents, dealers, managers, officials from governmental sport organizations, doctors, physiotherapists or others.”

Bach also announced a $10 million pledge from the IOC to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The conference is taking place in the home country of the incoming WADA president, Witold Banka.

Outgoing WADA president Craig Reedie hailed the agency’s progress but noted it was ill-equipped to deal with large-scale challenges such as the systematic doping in Russia, laid bare by a pair of devastating reports by investigator Richard McLaren in 2016.

“There will always be those who try to destabilize the anti-doping system,” outgoing WADA president Craig Reedie warned.

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