The IOC Athletes’ Commission Releases Recommendations on Rule 50

The International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission has released their recommendations on Rule 50 and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games. These have been fully endorsed by the IOC Executive Board.

Rule 50 covers how athletes are free to express themselves during the Games. The current Rule 50 states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Athletes are only allowed to express their views while doing media: during press conferences, traditional or digital media, or in the mixed zone. 

The past few years have seen an increase in athletes using their position as public figures to speak out about social injustices. These messages have been increasingly common on the playing field. NBA teams have worn shirts with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” and soccer teams have been taking a knee prior to matches to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Last month saw the USOPC release their guidelines for athlete protests at Olympic and Paralympic Trials events. 

The USOPC guidelines are much more specific as compared to those recommended by the IOC AC. The USOPC has specified that it is allowing Racial & Social Justice demonstrations that promote historically underrepresented and marginalized groups. They are also prohibiting symbols and slogans of hate such as the confederate flag. The recommendations from the IOC AC are much more general in that they look at how and where athletes can protest rather than the specific slogans and symbols will be allowed or prohibited. 

Last year the IOC Athletes’ Commission began a process to reform Rule 50 to allow for more freedom of expression from Olympic athletes while upholding the Olympic ideals. The AC consulted over 3500 athletes from 185 countries, Athlete Commissions, and experts in human rights and sports law. The commission is chaired by swimmer Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, a 7-time Olympic medalist and a former world record holder. Coventry presented the recommendations to the IOC Executive Board yesterday and stated:

We want to amplify the voices of athletes, and find more ways to support the values of the Olympic Games and what sport stands for. This consultation was a very important process for us and is part of the ongoing dialogue with the athlete community. We are delighted that the IOC EB fully supported our proposals.

The commission has recommended the following areas where athletes can express themselves: the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, Olympic Village branding, the Olympic Truce Mural, athlete apparel, social media campaigns, and digital messaging. 

Branding in the Olympic Village and on athlete apparel should incorporate messaging to celebrate Peace, Respect, Solidarity, Inclusion, and Equality. 

The commission proposed a change in the Olympic Oath to include language of inclusion:

We promise to take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules and in the spirit of fair play, inclusion and equality. Together we stand in solidarity and commit ourselves to sport without doping, without cheating, without any form of discrimination. We do this for the honour of our teams, in respect for the Fundamental Principles of Olympism, and to make the world a better place through sport.”

The results showed that over ⅔ of athletes surveyed indicated that it is not appropriate to use the field of play, the podium, or official ceremonies to demonstrate or to express their views. The commission listened to each side of the argument and concluded that freedom of speech comes with duty and responsibility. The AC believes in preserving the political neutrality of the games and protecting the celebration of athlete success at medal ceremonies. 

The Athletes’ Commission has asked for clarity on sanctions relating to violations of Rule 50. The current rule looks at violations on a case-by-case basis and the AC is asking for a range of sanctions that would be implemented in the case of a violation. 

The changes presented by the IOC AC will be implemented beginning at this summer’s 2020 Tokyo Games. 

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