IOC giving athletes slightly more leeway to express views on political, social justice
By Rachel Axon
The International Olympic Committee is giving athletes slightly more leeway to express views on political and social justice issues, according to new guidance it issued on Friday.
Three weeks before the opening of the Tokyo Games, the IOC clarified its Rule 50, which typically bars protest or political displays during the Games.
Under the new guidance, athletes will be able to express their views on the field of play before competition so long is it is not targeted against people, not disruptive and not otherwise prohibited by national Olympic committees or international federations.
Expressions during competition, in the Olympic village and during ceremonies — including medal, opening and closing ceremonies — remain prohibited under a longstanding rule in the Olympic charter baring “political, religious or racial propaganda.”
Athletes have been pushing the IOC for greater leeway to express their views, specifically on issues of social and racial justice.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee put thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden on probation after their displays on the podium during the Pan Am Games in 2019. Berry raised her fist on the podium to protest racial inequality, and Imboden knelt on one knee.
But following protests and the social justice movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd last summer, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized.
“It is clear now that this organization should have supported instead of condemned, and advocated for understanding instead of relying on previous precedent,” Hirshland wrote.
The USOPC announced it would not sanction athletes for social and racial justice demonstrations — such as raising a fist or kneeling during the national anthem — at U.S. Olympic Trials.
At track and field trials last week, Berry turned away from the flag when “The Star-Spangled Banner” started playing while she was on the podium. USA Track & Field organizers had played the anthem once per night session, and Berry said she wasn’t expecting it to be during her ceremony.
Berry covered her head with a T-shirt that said, “Activist Athlete.”
“I feel like it was a set-up, and they did it on purpose,” Berry said of the timing of the anthem. “I was pissed, to be honest.”
The USOPC’s position was considered as part of the IOC’s review, conducted by the athletes’ commission, but puts it at odds with the IOC’s rules.
Sanctions for athlete remain unclear under the new guidance, with athletes and their national Olympic committees facing potential discipline. The IOC said it would consider the degree of disruption, whether it advocated something prohibited under international human rights law and whether another participant complained, among other factors.
“When expressing their views, athletes are expected to respect the applicable laws, the Olympic values and their fellow athletes,” the IOC guidance states. “It should be recognized that any behavior and/or expression that constitutes or signals discrimination, hatred, hostility or the potential for violence on any basis whatsoever is contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”