Athletes will face bans if they kneel at Tokyo Olympics to support anti-racism protests, says IOC

'No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas'


                            Athletes will face bans if they kneel at Tokyo Olympics to support anti-racism protests, says IOC
(Getty Images)

While many private sports clubs have allowed their players to take a knee to protest peacefully, following the death of George Floyd, under police custody, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed that athletes were still banned from protesting at any of the games in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

"No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas," reads Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which included "gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling." There have been no changes made to the guidelines which were issued by IOC in January, months before the Floyd incident happened. Athletes who are found in violation of the rule are subject to discipline on a case-by-case basis. 

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games have been postponed to 2021, in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, IOC reassured the Telegraph that the guidelines as issued earlier are very much staying "in place" despite worldwide protests for the Black Lives Matter movement. They added that the committee would not speculate on "hypothetical cases 13 months before the Olympic Games." However, one of the topics of discussion at an IOC executive board meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 11, is the anti-racism movement going on in several countries including the US and the UK. 

The gold medal is displayed after the Tokyo 2020 medal design unveiling ceremony (Getty Images)

While athlete protests at the Olympics are rare, they do happen. In the 1968 Mexico City Games, African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised black-gloved fists on the podium to protest racial inequality. Even in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa raised his arms and crossed his wrists to show support for his Oromo tribe's protest over government plans to reallocate farmland when he was crossing the finish line. 

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of National Football League – a body which came under fire for its poor handling of Colin Kaepernick's kneeling protests in 2016 – admitted last week that the gaming authorities had made mistakes in dismissing their players' words as irrelevant and not encouraging them to speak out and "peacefully protest".

Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline (Getty Images)

Even FIFA, the world governing body for international football, which has normally displayed zero tolerance for players protesting on the field, asked competition organizers to use "common sense" when it comes to allowing protests over Floyd's death.

On Monday, June 8, the United States women's national team called for US Soccer, their employer, to reconsider its ban on kneeling during the anthem. “The Federation should immediately repeal the ‘Anthem Policy,’ publish a statement acknowledging the policy was wrong when it was adopted, and issue an apology to our Black players and supporters,” the national team players said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "Further, we believe the Federation should lay out its plans on how it will now support the message and movement that it tried to silence four years ago.”

The policy in question is believed to be stricter than even the NFL's rules which attempt to curb players’ ability to protest. The US Soccer's policy requires players to “stand respectfully” during the anthem at national team games and is believed to have targeted a single player in particular – Megan Rapinoe, who in 2016 became the first white major athlete to kneel during the anthem in solidarity with the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick. When the policy was forged in 2017, no board members voted against it. There was a special board meeting scheduled by US Soccer on Tuesday, June 9, to discuss the standing during national anthem policy. No decision was reached in several hours of discussion.

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