Amid global racial and social protests, the International Olympic Committee has stated that athletes participating in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics will not be allowed to wear Black Lives Matter apparel, or any apparel with political messages, while taking part in official Olympic activities, including competitions and the opening and closing ceremonies. Furthermore, no demonstrations will be allowed during the awarding of medals.
Last month, the IOC said that the ban on Olympic protests was put in place after a majority of the 3,500 athletes they polled were in favor of strict rules regarding demonstrations. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, spectators from abroad are prohibited from attending.
“A very clear majority of athletes said that they think it’s not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play, at the official ceremonies, or at the podium,” said IOC Athletes Commission Chief Kirsty Coventry.
“So our recommendation is to preserve the podium, field of play and official ceremonies from any kind of protest, or demonstrations, or acts perceived as such.” Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter says that “demonstrations or political, religious or racial propaganda” is disallowed and that a framework must be provided “to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.”
Last month, in an online presentation of the Athletes’ Commission of the IOC on Rule 50 recommendations, Coventry answered, “Yes, that is correct” when asked if athletes would be penalized for violating anti-demonstration guidelines. Yet, many Olympic sport governing bodies said they would not sanction athletes for protesting, including World Athletics—formerly known as the IAAF—the international governing body for track and field.
The restrictions apparently run counter to one of the recommendations that called for “increased opportunities for athletes’ expression during the Olympic Games.” Black Lives Matter displays, protests, demonstrations or acts perceived as such have not been banned from press conferences, interviews or team meetings. Rule 50 would have been a warning to track and field medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos to not give the raised fist Black Power salute during the 200-meter medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Smith, from Clarksville, Texas, and Carlos, from Harlem, New York, both Black men, winners of a gold and bronze respectively, carried out their gestures that today remains a symbol of opposition and defiance to America’s oppression, racism and injustice against Black people. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves and lifted their fists in solidarity.