The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has maintained that if athletes protest in such a way inside of stadiums, at ceremonies, or on podiums any time during the Tokyo Olympics this summer, they will be punished.
Under Rule 50 of the Olympics Charter, “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” According to the Olympic website, the rule is put in place to keep the fields, Olympic Village, and podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious, or ethnic demonstrations.
“When an individual makes their grievances, however legitimate, more important than the feelings of their competitors and the competition itself, the unity and harmony as well as the celebration of sport and human accomplishment are diminished,” it writes in an explanation for why the rule exists.
The recent rise of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement against racial injustice has resulted in some organizations, like the Athletics Association, arguing for a change to the rule in a way that would allow athletes to peacefully protest during the Games.
"We strongly believe that if athletes are protesting in the spirit of Olympism, then to punish them for these peaceful protests goes against what the Olympics is supposed to represent and encourage."#Rule50 https://t.co/z55b7223s1 https://t.co/I0ajyjMnFU— TheAthleticsAssociation (@WeAreTheSport) July 21, 2020
Sebastion Coe, president of World Athletics, an international governing body for the sport of athletics, has said that he had no issue with athletes participating in “respectful” forms of protests.
“I was very clear that, if an athlete wanted to take the knee in a medal ceremony or before a competition, I have absolutely no problem with that as long as it is done in a respectful way – in fact the way that Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Peter Norman effectively did 52 years ago in Mexico,” Coe is reported to have said.
Due to the response of then-IOC President Avery Brundage, Smith and Carlos were expelled from the 1968 Games as their political statement was deemed unfit and “a deliberate and violent” breach of the Olympic principles. However, contrary to popular belief, both athletes were allowed to keep their Olympic medals.
In 2020, the IOC consulted with over 3,500 athletes and presented findings that showed more than half of them were against protests within the field or at the podiums.
As a result, the IOC’s established a series of recommendations that maintained the preservation of the podium, field and official ceremonies from any political demonstrations.
“While freedom of speech and expression is a universally recognised fundamental human right, it is not absolute. Such a right comes with duties and responsibilities,” IOC published under its recommendations.
The recommendations also included the allowance of inclusive messages on athletic apparel, such as peace, respect, and equality. It also included the implementation of more inclusive language into the Olympic Oath.
In April, the current President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, announced that the IOC Executive Board had fully endorsed all of the recommendations.
The recommendations are the result of a consultation process implemented by the IOC Athletes' Commission with over 3,500 athletes from 185 National Olympic Committees and all 41 Olympic sports, ensuring fully gender-equal representation.https://t.co/i6TmEEZBJq @Athlete365— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) April 21, 2021
The Tokyo Olympics kick off on July 23 after a year-long delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the recent surge of coronavirus cases in Japan resulting in the cancellation of the torch relay in Miyakojima, Okinawa, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, has maintained that the games will not be canceled again.