The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned athletes from any sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games program from wearing “Black Lives Matter (BLM)” apparel on the podium. According to the Associated Press, the IOC specified that slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” on athlete apparel at Olympic venues are not allowed. The decision comes following the results of a survey launched by the IOC in December 2020 to 3,547 Olympic athletes regarding Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter — “advertising, demonstrating, and propaganda.” According to the guidelines developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission chaired by Olympic gold medalist Kirsty Coventry, Rule 50 intends to “protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.” The rule states:
- Except as may be authorized by the IOC Executive Board on an exceptional basis, no form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues, and other competition areas which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues, or other sports grounds.
- No kind of demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or other areas.
The survey data revealed 67 percent of the athletes polled, including athletes from 185 countries competing in all 41 sports in the Olympic program, support a ban on podium protests. Seventy percent agreed that it would be inappropriate to protest in the field of play or at official ceremonies.
[Related: World’s Strongest Man Martins Licis Marches in Support of #BlackLivesMatter Movement]
This ban of BLM apparel on the Olympic podium suggests that the IOC is attempting to separate the Games and the events that take place at them from their own stated views towards racial injustice. In June 2020, the IOC issued a resolution “condemning racism in the strongest terms.” It goes on to say, “The Olympic Games are a very powerful global demonstration against racism and for inclusivity.”
In June 2020, the IOC banned athletes from kneeling or protesting at Olympic venues, which include:
- On the field of play.
- In the Olympic Village.
- During Olympic medal ceremonies.
- During the Opening, Closing, and other official Ceremonies.
The guidelines for Rule 50 state: “It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.”
USA Weightlifting’s Response
“USA Weightlifting supports athletes in using their platforms to call attention to issues or effect change in society. This is codified in our Athlete Protest Policy which governs this type of speech at USA Weightlifting-sanctioned events. While the International Olympic Committee has opted to enforce Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter in this case for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, USA Weightlifting will continue working with stakeholders across the Olympic Movement in support of athletes having their voices heard.”
Protests at the Olympic Games
Historically, the impact of protests at the Olympic Games has endured generations. In the summer of 1968, the Mexico City Olympic Games saw Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the United States raise their fists in protest on the podium with gold and bronze medals around their necks, respectively, for the Men’s 200-meter dash. Peter Norman, a white athlete representing Australia, stood on the podium alongside them as the silver medalist. Although Norman did not lower his head and raise his fist, all three wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges on their jackets in solidarity. Raising a fist is still used today as a form of peaceful protest — USA hammer thrower Gwen Berry did so at the 2020 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will still be allowed to express political views in official media settings and on social media. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has said athletes are allowed to kneel during the national anthem and raise their fists at Olympic trials. Additionally, they said they would not discipline athletes for peacefully protesting at the Olympic Games.
The Games are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 through August 8.
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