According to a report from The Guardian, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have prohibited their social media teams from posting pictures of athletes taking a knee.
The Guardian cites an “insider” who says the ban was “delivered from on high Tuesday evening Tokyo time.” Media around the world reported on the protests and published photos of the athletes kneeling, but none of those photos appeared on any official websites or social media channels of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics themselves.
Per The Guardian:
“An insider told the Guardian they found the IOC’s stance odd given the organisation celebrates iconic pictures of protest – including Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists to protest against the unfair treatment of black people in the United States at the 1968 Olympics.”
The blackout on protest photos muddles what had previously looked like a clear step towards free expression by the IOC. Previously, Rule 50 of the IOC charter had permitted athletes to express themselves in media interviews, but not on the field of play. As athletes, fans and observers pushed back against the unpopular rule, the IOC updated its policies to allow free expression on the field of play, but only before competition begins and as long as the expression is “consistent with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”
The rules still prohibit expressions, protests, and political statements on the podium, a taboo likely to be tested in the coming weeks in Tokyo. Allowing on-field protests helped address some of the concerns that the IOC was stifling expression by limiting protests to the least-visible parts of the Olympic venue. But the IOC’s blackout on those images appearing anywhere in official media postings undercuts that visibility component significantly.
One important development to watch this week will be whether Olympic TV broadcasters (not direct outlets of the IOC or the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but Olympic partners) will show athletes kneeling, or whether they will mirror the official IOC/Tokyo 2020 policy of not publicizing any evidence of protests.