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No Taking a Knee, Lifting of Fists: Political Protests to be Punished at the Tokyo Olympics

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.

​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.

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, along with Australian Peter Norman, during the award ceremony of the 200 m race at the Mexican Olympic games. During the awards ceremony, Smith (center) and Carlos protested against racial discrimination: they went barefoot on the podium and listened to their anthem bowing their heads and raising a fist with a black glove. Mexico City, Mexico, 1968.

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 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.

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