IOC Athletes’ Commission Releases Rule 50 Guidelines On Podium & Other Protests

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.”

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Insert Rage Against the Machine lyrics here.

Coach John

Bulls on parade seems appropriate

Steve Nolan

Well I mean there’s never a wrong time for RATM I’d say we’re prolly going for “Killing in the Name.”

Woke Stasi

52 years ago at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, Tommy Smith and John Carlos were sent home by the USOC the next day after their raised fist demonstration at the 200 m run medal ceremonies. What were the consequences to Pan-American athletes Race Imboden and Gwen Berry (cited above)? What were the consequences to Horton and Scott?


When should protests be “on the field of play” then? When the eyes of the World are not on us? When things can be brushed under the carpet?

Spotted Zebra

I agree that these questions you raise are among the most important ones to consider regarding this topic. The realm of “politics” is not just about electoral systems—it is a far broader and more diffuse idea. Politics pertains to power relations (which actors have greater relative power in a given situation), audibility (whose voices are genuinely heard and whose are not), and how these two dimensions (i.e. power and audibility) are distributed throughout societies. A key idea in political theory is that disavowing or denying politics is actually the ultimate political gesture of our time. Consequently, by silencing athletes’ (literal and figurative) voices, the IOC is wielding its power in an overtly *political* way. In this scenario, the IOC members… Read more »

Steve Nolan

Ding ding ding! No one would have cared at all about the Horton/Scott/Sun stuff last year if it’d just happened at a press conference or, if the IOC really got its way, some sort of windowless, single-occupancy, no cameras allowed “free speech room.”

About Retta Race

Retta Race

After 16 years at a Fortune 1000 financial company, long-time swimmer Retta Race decided to change lanes and pursue her sporting passion. She currently is Coach for the Northern KY Swordfish Masters, a team she started up in December 2013, while also offering private coaching. Retta is also an MBA …

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