The International Olympic Committee (IOC) met today to discuss several important topics as the 2020 Olympic Games are now fewer than 200 days away. One such subject broached by the group was that of protestation, either political or otherwise, during medal ceremonies and other formal events in Tokyo this summer.
Existing Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter dictates that ‘no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’
However, at the 2019 Pan American Games, United States’ fencer Race Imboden took a knee, while hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist during their medal ceremonies to highlight what they feel are ‘social issues’ in the U.S. This was after Australia’s Mack Horton refused to share a podium with Chinese gold medalist Sun Yang, while Scotland’s Duncan Scott abstained from shaking hands and taking photographs with the polarizing superstar at the 2019 FINA World Aquatic Championships.
In October of last year, Kirsty Coventry, Olympic swimming medalist-turned IOC Athletes Commission leader-and Zimbabwean Sports Minister, said that the commission “agreed it [protests] should not be on the field of play or during medal ceremonies.”
She also stated the group was “working together to put some guidelines together around the rules to express very clearly to athletes where we need to represent and keep certain areas and medal ceremonies free from protests.”
Enter the 3-page, IOC-endorsed ‘Rule 50 Guidelines’ released today, January 9th, meant to ‘further inform and educate athletes’.
Per the guidelines, the following types of protests are examples (among an exhaustive list) of those prohibited at an Olympic Games:
- Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands
- Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling
- Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol
Additionally, protests of any kind are not allowed at all Olympic venues, including:
- On the field of play
- In the Olympic Village
- During Olympic medal ceremonies
- During the Opening, Closing and other official Ceremonies
- Any protest or demonstration outside Olympic venues must obviously comply with local legislation wherever
local law forbids such actions
Rule 50 guidelines also clarify that, while respecting local laws, athletes have the opportunity to express their opinions, including during press conferences, at team meetings and via digital or traditional media.
If these guidelines are violated during the Olympic Games, the incident will be evaluated by the respective National Olympic Committee, International Federation and the IOC, and disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary.
The IOC Athletes Commission statement on these guidelines reads, “As athletes, we are passionate about our sports and achieving our sporting performance goals. For each and every
one of us, that passion continues into everyday life, where we advocate for change on issues of great importance to us and our world. That desire to drive change can naturally make it very tempting to use the platform of an appearance at the Olympic Games to make our point.”
Coventry, in particular, stated, “We needed clarity and they wanted clarity about the rules. The majority of athletes believe that it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”