The IOC (International Olympic Committee)’s Rule 50 governs athlete expression at the Olympic Games, and currently outlaws athlete protests or demonstrations in any Olympic sites or venues – that notably includes protests on the field of play and on the podium. Athletes and observers have sharply criticized the rule and called for changes. Most recently, Rule 50 came back into world headlines as the IOC Athletes Commission released their recommendations for changing the rule, but notably recommended that protests remain banned on the Olympic podium.
“In the quantitative study, a clear majority of athletes said that it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play (70% of respondents), at official ceremonies (70% of respondents) or on the podium (67% of respondents),” the IOC Athletes Commission report said.
But Peaty, the 2016 Olympic champion in the 100 breaststroke, said athletes should be allowed to protest without the fear of fines or punishment.
“I think that people do have the right to protest and have the right to do it where they want. I don’t think we should fine them for expressing their opinions,” Peaty told reporters, according to Reuters. “It’s like me now, I wouldn’t want to be fined for saying it. But it’s everything with balance.”
British swimmer Scott was notably part of a much-publicized podium protest at the 2019 World Championships. After the 200 freestyle final, Scott (who tied for the bronze medal) refused to share the podium with or shake the hand of gold medalist Sun Yang. Sun, who represents China, has previously served a ban for doping and was (and remains) in limbo of another ban for an altercation with doping control agents at a different test.
“There has got to be a reason why somebody would want to protest,” Scott said in the Reuters story. “They are not just going to do it for anything. I don’t know what people want to do on the podium, but crack on.”
Great Britain’s Olympic chief Mark England says the nation will be in an open dialogue with athletes to find a workable option for athletes who wish to protest.
“We’ll listen to what they have to say and want to do,” he said. “It’s really important we find an avenue and a route for those athletes across the team who wish to protest against whatever issue may be close to their heart.”