The International Olympic Committee released new guidelines surrounding protests at the Olympics Thursday, and American hammer thrower Gwen Berry — who raised her fist on the podium at last summer’s Pan American Games — did not hold back in her response.
“It is a form of control,” she told Yahoo Sports’ Henry Bushnell. “It’s kind of like silencing us at the biggest moments of our lives. Which … I really don’t agree with it.”
Berry, similar to what runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith did at the 1968 Olympics, raised her fist on the podium to protest social inequality in America and specifically the treatment of black Americans, according to Yahoo Sports.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 11, 2019
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter previously stated that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Thursday, the updated guidelines further detailed where athletes can and cannot protest or voice opinions. It did say that athletes can express themselves in press conferences, team meetings, or via media (social or otherwise).
The new guidelines say, should they be violated, that national federations and the IOC will determine disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.
Berry’s demonstration was a “spur of the moment” decision, she added, but she feels the power of the “moment” in which she is important. Thus, Berry thinks it’s important that athletes be able to demonstrate at the Olympics — sports’ biggest stage.
“We sacrifice for something for four years, and we’re at our highest moment,” she said. “We should be able to say whatever we want to say, do whatever we have to do – for our brand, our culture, the people who support us, the countries that support us, [everything].”
Berry also lamented the generic questions medal-winners often receive and the politicization of the Games, seemingly on the IOC’s terms.
“Because anytime somebody gets on the podium, the first question they ask is, ‘Oh, how does it feel to win a medal for your country?’ ” Berry said. “It’s the same thing, over and over and over again. Like, when are we gonna have conversations about real issues?”
Protests of multiple types have come to swimming in recent years. Last July, Mack Horton and Duncan Scott abstained from podium festivities in some events at the 2019 FINA World Championships in protest of Sun Yang‘s presence, as he awaited his fate in regard to 2018 blood vial smashing incident.
In October 2017, Olympic gold medalist Anthony Ervin knelt during the playing of national anthems ahead of the Raia Rapida meet in Brazil amid a national debate over athletes’ right to peacefully protest, sparked by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.