American Athletes Split on Rule 50 Olympic Protest Restrictions

Editor’s note: the way that the questions were worded in the IOC Athletes’ Commission survey can make the results a little confusing. Some questions saw questions asked about whether they didn’t approve of certain things, while other questions asked if athletes did approve of things. We’ve done our best to describe the nature of the questions, but pay attention to whether the percentages represent “approval” or “disapproval.”

Last week the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission released their recommendations on Rule 50, which governs athlete expression at the Olympics. After consulting over 3,500 athletes, over two-thirds of those surveyed believe that protests during competition, on the medal stand, or during the Opening and Closing Ceremonies should not take place. 

The results led to many organizations and individuals challenging the findings, including 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist Anthony Ervin of the USA. 

Included as part of the IOC AC’s report was a 53-page appendix which includes survey results and a detailed look into how countries and individuals responded.

There were 3,547 athletes surveyed who represented 185 different National Olympic Committees. All 41 Olympic sports were represented in the survey with Aquatics leading the way with Athletics as both had 12% (approx. 426) of the votes. The average age was 33 and 55% are Olympians. The vote was split evenly along gender lines as 50% of those responded were women, 49% men, with 1% preferring not to specify a gender. 

While 185 different countries were represented, 13 countries had over 60 people respond and with a total number of 1,969 votes, these 13 countries represented 55.5% of all votes. The top three countries were:

  1. China – 489 votes (14%)
  2. United States – 249 votes (7%)
  3. Japan – 195 votes (5.5%)
  4. France – 181 votes
  5. Germany – 159 votes
  6. Canada – 148 votes
  7. Great Britain – 135 votes
  8. Australia – 120 votes
  9. South Korea – 96 votes
  10. Italy – 76 votes
  11. Mexico/Russia – 68 votes
  12. Netherlands – 61 votes

Brazil, New Zealand, and South Africa ranked next.

An interesting observation with the data is that at the 2016 Rio Olympics, there were 34 National Olympic Committees who sent over 100 athletes to the games. With the IOC AC survey here, there were only eight NOCs which had over 100 athletes answer the questions. 

Survey questions were focused on two main areas:

  1. The appropriateness of demonstrating or expressing views in various ways
  2. The importance of new ways of demonstrating or expressing their views

USA Results

The responses from the USA showed a large majority approval for  athletes being allowed to express their views on their individual terms. Less than a third of US voters believe that it is “not appropriate” to demonstrate or express their views in the following ways:

  • Olympic Village (33%)
  • The Mixed Zone (25%)
  • Press Conferences (27%)
  • In the Media (25%)

These numbers were a bit more mixed when the venue was changed to one where there is much more attention on the athlete. When asked about the appropriateness of demonstrating or expressing their views in the following areas, more than half of American athletes believe it is “not appropriate” to do so:

  • The Podium (53%)
  • The Opening Ceremony (61%)
  • The Field of Play (62%)

When asked about new areas for self expression and demonstration, the American responses continued to show a slight majority approving of different opportunities in the following ways:

  • A moment of solidarity against discrimination during the Opening Ceremony (59%)
  • Unified messaging around inclusion and solidarity on the field of play (52%)
  • An area for athletes to demonstrate or express their views openly in the Olympic Village (51%)

Contrasted to that, less than 40% of American athletes felt that it is important to be able to demonstrate in these ways:

  • Wearing clothing or armbands in an Olympic venue with collective messaging on it (36%)
  • Wearing clothing or armbands in an Olympic venue with an individual/personal message on it (35%)
  • Allowing physical gestures in an Olympic venue, as a way to demonstrate or express view (40%)

On this last question, the US had the second highest percentage answering “important”, behind Canada who had 41% of their athletes answer “important.”

The profile of the 249 American athletes were as follows:

  • 50% Male, 49% Female
  • The highest percentage came from the 25-34 age group (27%) with the next highest being the 55 and over age group (25%)
  • 69% of athletes are current Olympians, 25% are current elite athletes, and 6% are retired elite athletes
  • The highest sport representation was Aquatics (14%) followed by Rowing (12%), Athletics (12%), Skiing/Snowboarding (8%), and Skating (6%).

Global Responses

As noted above, China had nearly twice as many votes as the next highest country and their votes made up 14% of the total. With such a high percentage, while they did not control the outcome of the voting, China had an influence on the results. Collectively, they had more votes than the North American trio of Canada, Mexico, and the USA. 

China overwhelmingly and continually voted against athlete expression followed by Russia and South Africa. Canada and Germany were the countries that regularly voted most for athlete expression.

Note: higher percentages in the chart below denote opposition to the topic while lower percentages indicate support.

Topic Top 3 Countries voting “Not appropriate” Lowest 3 Countries voting “Not appropriate”
Demonstrate and express views “in the media” China, 85%  voted “not appropriate”

Russia, 56%

South Africa, 44%

Canada, 14% voted “not appropriate”

Germany, 14%

Mexico, 22%

Demonstrate and express views at “Press Conferences” China, 87%

Russia, 56%

South Africa, 44%

Germany 18%

Canada, 18%

Great Britain, 27%

Demonstrate and express views in “The Mixed Zone (Media Zone)” China, 27%

Russia, 56%

South Africa, 46%

Canada, 18%

Germany, 20%

Mexico, 25%

Demonstrate and express views in “The Olympic Village” China 90%

Russia, 72%

South Africa, 59%

Canda, 30%

Germany 31%

USA, 33%

Demonstrate and express views one “The Podium” China, 91%

Russia, 84%

South Africa, 78%

Canada, 49%

South Korea, 49%

USA, 53%

Demonstrate and express views at “The Opening Ceremony” China, 91%

Russia, 84%

Australia, 84%

South Korea, 57%

Canada, 59%

Germany, 59%

Demonstrate and express views at “The Field of Play” China, 92%

Russia, 85%

Australia, 83%

Canada, 57%

Germany, 59%

South Korea, 60%

On the topic of new areas for athletes to express themselves, the results of the first set of questions were generally flipped. Mexico and Canada were the countries most in favor of providing athletes with new ways for their voices to be heard. China, Russia, and Japan were the countries who least favored these new ways of athlete expression. 

Note: higher percentages in the chart below denote support of the topic while lower percentages indicate opposition.

Topic Top 3 Countries Lowest 3 Countries
A moment of solidarity against descrimination during the Opening Ceremony Mexico, 72% voted “Important”

Canada, 69%

Italy, 67%

China, 12% voted “Important”

Japan, 26%

Russia, 26%

Unified messaging around inclusion and solidarity on the field of play Canada, 68%

Mexico, 65%

Italy, 64%

Japan, 18%

Russia, 25%

Netherlands, 28%

An area for athletes to demonstrate or express their views openly in the Olympic Village Mexico, 68%

Brazil, 57%

Canada, 56%

China, 11%

Japan, 18%

Netherlands, 18%

Wearing clothing or armbands in an Olympic venue with collective messaging on Mexico, 59%

Italy, 53%

Canada, 47%

Russia, 18%

Japan, 21%

Netherlands, 25%

Wearing clothing or armbands in an Olympic venue with an individual/personal message on Mexico, 46%

Canada, 43%

South Africa, 39%

China, 6%

Japan, 10%

Russia, 13%

Allowing physical gestures in an Olympic venue, as a way to demonstrate or express a view Canada, 41%

USA, 40%

Mexico, 34%

China, 4%

Russia, 10%

Japan, 15%

The survey results give a glimpse into how each country values different forms of expression, particularly in the athletic arena and at a world event such as the Olympics. What is interesting is that the USA, a country that prides itself on their freedom of speech, did not lead any of the categories above. As a collective, the North American countries generally favor self expression and the results reflect this.

The full report can be read here

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ACC
3 months ago

It’s interesting to see the countries’ cultures surrounding free speech reflected here. US, Canada, Britain, South Korea, and Germany fall on the side of free speech, while China and Russia are less friendly towards it.

Also interesting to see the lingering effect of Peter Norman on the Australian responses here. South Africa also seems to have a history of “keep politics out of sports” since Apartheid South Africa was excluded from the Olympics.

Last edited 3 months ago by ACC
Corn Pop
Reply to  ACC
3 months ago

The 100s shot in Mexico , the torture & murders of Munich can never compare to the deeply felt & earnest feelings of athletes today. We are in for a treat!

Last edited 3 months ago by Corn Pop
Heidi Natkin
3 months ago

In the US I would venture to guess that the majority of our athletes come from “privileged” backgrounds, and aren’t personally affected by the issues that would be cause for protest – impacting their views on protest in general. This would particularly be the case with winter sports but also in sports that tend to be dominated by wealthy, white athletes including swimming.

Optimistic
Reply to  Heidi Natkin
3 months ago

In comparison, I’d think you’re even more likely to find athletes come from ‘privileged backgrounds’ in countries outside of the US.

Mikeh
Reply to  Heidi Natkin
3 months ago

I think the athletes from the “privileged backgrounds” are far more likely to protest. After all, they have received schooling from major universities that encourage that ideology.

ACC
Reply to  Mikeh
3 months ago

Which ideology would that be? Freedom of speech? I thought universities were apparently suppressing free speech?

Schroedinger’s University: Both against free speech and for too much speech at the same time.

Emerson
Reply to  ACC
3 months ago

They suppress “free speech” when the ideas expressed are contrary to their ideology.

Troll Longhorn
Reply to  Heidi Natkin
3 months ago

Virtue signaling in full effect.

Doconc
3 months ago

No surprise ccp opposes protest

Political Protest in China can be fatal

Irish Ringer
3 months ago

Do you want to watch athletics, a protest, or both? Will the global audience and event announcers research and understand what all these protests are about? I just don’t see it happening and many of the protests will be lost on the audience.