The USOPC on Thursday expressed its support for the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice’s recommendation to “end the prohibition of peaceful demonstrations by team members at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” amending its charter to allow social justice and human rights protests by Olympic athletes.
“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 in a statement accompanying the release.
After the brutal police killing of George Floyd in May 2020 and the social unrest that ensued, the USOPC established a group to study Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, a controversial provision that doesn’t allow for protests or demonstrations because sport is “neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.”
Specifically, Rule 50 states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
However, the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice has also argued that "hate speech, racist propaganda and discriminatory remarks" that aim to eliminate the rights of marginalized populations should not be considered examples of ethical speech in the event that Rule 50 is changed.
“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,” the council said in a Thursday statement.
The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice has also called on both the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to recognize that human rights and social justice initiatives should not be viewed as “divisive disruptions.”
The USOPC’s decision now puts it at odds with the International Olympic Committee, which still bars athletes from protesting in the field of play under Rule 50. The decision is also a large shift in the USOPC’s organizational culture. Last year, the body reprimanded two American athletes for protesting racial inequality at the Pan American Games.
The 2020 Olympic Games, slated to take place in Tokyo, Japan, have been postponed to July 23, 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.