Frank Franklin II/AP
The Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) has lengthy tried to insulate itself from politics in society, however wider points have at all times been part of sport – together with the Olympics.
Generally political statements have been delicate and accommodated by the IOC, akin to Cathy Freeman’s victory lap on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with the Aboriginal and Australian flags draped on her shoulders — a logo of hope for reconciliation.
The Olympics have, after all, additionally been topic to extra confronting actions: Nazi salutes on the 1936 Berlin Video games, political boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Video games and a terrorist assault on the 1972 Munich Video games.
Whereas the IOC advocates for political neutrality, the Olympics are inherently contested terrain — a celebration of athleticism and, by advantage of nationwide groups, a stage for geopolitical triumphs and tensions.
Athletes are clearly people and, more and more, many are searching for a voice on issues that transcend sport, akin to racism and sexism. Final month, athletes used their collective energy to carry each US skilled league to a standstill for a day to protest the police taking pictures of a Black man.
On this new period of political activism, the IOC is being provoked to reevaluate its staunchly apolitical stance. Simply how the motion will permit activism — in what varieties and what sorts — stays an enormous query.
Athletes will not keep silent on politics anymore. However will leagues help their protests if it prices them actual cash?
Proposed pointers on political expression
On the centre of the controversy is Rule 50 of the Olympic Constitution, which purports to “shield the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Video games”, stating
no form of demonstration or political, non secular or racial propaganda is permitted within the Olympic areas.
Protests and demonstrations are due to this fact forbidden in any respect Olympic venues and ceremonies.
As athlete activism has turn out to be extra seen lately, the IOC sought to revise its pointers round protests for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sit on arms or take a stand: why athletes have at all times been political gamers
This adopted a number of medal podium protests by athletes outdoors the video games, together with Australian swimmer Mack Horton refusing to face beside China’s Solar Yang on the world championships.
The brand new pointers are meant to set parameters for what’s allowed and what isn’t. Olympic athletes are entitled to “specific their opinions”, however not throughout competitions or on the Olympic Village, medal ceremonies and different official ceremonies. That is allowed elsewhere: press conferences, crew conferences and social media.
So, on the face of it, athletes have extra liberties: their use of social media, for instance, is much less constrained than prior to now.
No clear line within the sand
As ever, although, the satan is within the element. The brand new pointers additionally define what constitutes unacceptable dissent: displaying political messaging (akin to indicators or armbands), gestures of a political nature (hand gestures or kneeling) and refusing to observe ceremony protocol.
From the attitude of the IOC, there’s a clear demarcation between what constitutes a protest and expressing one’s views.
However athletes have been left confused — and proceed to really feel constrained by the brand new guidelines. For instance, the rule would appear to permit an athlete to specific help for Black Lives Matter at a press convention — however not put on a BLM t-shirt. Is one thought-about an expression of solidarity in opposition to racism, the opposite a political protest?
And what if athletes kneel or elevate a fist throughout a medal ceremony — a quite common type of protest in sports activities at this time? The IOC is asserting that actions like these shall be punished.
Frustratingly, the revised pointers will not be solely imprecise, the penalties arising from breaches are obscure – to be selected a “case-by-case foundation as obligatory”.
In fact, one should additionally think about the flip aspect. Freedom to talk on a worldwide stage can also imply athletes advocating for causes that don’t align with themes the IOC endorses, akin to racial or gender equality.
As Chelsey Gotell, chairperson of the Worldwide Paralympic Committee’s athletes’ council, put it,
Everyone knows that athlete protests on the video games is one thing of a Pandora’s field. The very last thing we need to do is create a free-for-all on the video games the place [Paralympic] athletes are free to protest on any topic they like, together with ones the broader world will discover repulsive.
Punishing or eradicating athletes who converse up
Maybe not surprisingly, the revised pointers have acquired a blended response from athletes. World Athlete, an alliance advocating for athletes’ rights, claims Rule 50 breaches article 19 of the Common Declaration of Human Rights:
Everybody has the precise to freedom of opinion and expression; this proper consists of freedom to carry opinions with out interference.
Taking this cue, Canadian human rights lawyer and Olympian Nikki Dryden argues bans on protest represent an unreasonable denial of freedoms, which needs to be vigorously resisted.
US Olympians have been particularly outspoken, saying in a letter
The IOC … can not proceed on the trail of punishing or eradicating athletes who converse up for what they consider in, particularly when these beliefs exemplify the objectives of Olympism.
In a slight departure from that view, an Australian Olympic Committee survey of athletes revealed most agreed with barring protests from competitors and the rostrum, however there was an urge for food for political expression past that.
The Olympics as a drive for constructive change
The IOC Athletes’ Fee is now consulting with athletes globally on alternative ways Olympians can specific themselves in a “dignified approach”, with a suggestion on Rule 50 anticipated in early 2021.
Regardless of the IOC decides, one factor is obvious: the “athlete voice” is stronger than ever. The latest athlete help for Black Lives Matter is a living proof. Sport needs to be aligned with causes just like the struggle in opposition to racism.
The Olympics — like sport usually — may also be a spot the place advocacy really results in constructive change.
For instance, beneath Saudi Arabian legislation, girls have been as soon as not permitted to take part on the Olympics. Nevertheless, the IOC pressured the Saudi Olympic Committee to ship feminine athletes to the Olympics, and in 2012 its ban on girls rivals was lifted.
We solely have to suppose again to Freeman’s victory lap on the 2000 Sydney Olympics for example of the ability of the Olympic stage to make a constructive assertion. With out this sort of wider group engagement, sport has restricted that means. Freeman gave premium worth to that Olympic second — and different athletes can, too.
The authors don’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and have disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.