US Olympic Athletes Call on IOC to Abolish Rejection of Olympic Protests

The leadership of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s (USOPC) Athletes’ Advisory Council (AAC) has published a letter calling on the IOC and IPC to abolish IOC Charter Rule 50, which prevents athletes from protesting during the Olympic Games.

Rule 50 Text: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic
sites, venues or other areas.”

The leadership of the AAC, a group elected by their peers to represent the voice of Olympians in the American Olympic movement, collaborated with John Carlos, the 1968 Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 meters. Carlos, now 75, was one of two runners, along with Tommie Smith, who raised a fist on that 200 meter podium to protest racism in the Olympic movement. Among his specific concerns were apartheid and racism in South Africa and Rhodesia, Muhammad Ali being stripped of his world heavyweight boxing title, and the presence of Avery Brundage as the president of the IOC. He also advocated for the hiring of more African-American assistant coaches.

Smith and Carlos were both expelled from those Olympics. Despite a persistent rumor, neither was stripped of their Olympic medals, though the IOC did consider it.

Earlier this month, the IOC reaffirmed its stance on rule 50, saying that it would punish protests happening on Olympic podiums.

Last summer, Olympic thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist on the podium at the 2019 Pan American Games. She was sent a letter of reprimand by USOPC CEO Sarah Hirschland and put on 12 months of probation. Hirschland has since apologized to Berry.

In swimming, Olympic champion Anthony Ervin knelt during the U.S. national anthem at the Raia Rapida meet in Brazil.

There is an expectation that these protests will grow in number at the Tokyo Olympics, which has been postponed to 2021. Athlete protests have grown both to bring attention to social issues, for example the police killing of black men in the United States; and sports issues, like the protests of Duncan Scott and Mack Horton at the 2019 World Championships over the presence of Chinese swimmer Sun Yang amid a doping investigation.

“Athletes will no longer be silenced,” the letter begins. The committee goes on to lay out their belief that athlete participation in social movements is crucial to the Olympic movement, not in opposition to it as the IOC has argued.

The letter also points out the IOC’s hypocrisy in exalting the actions of Smith and Carlos in its museums but not allowing current athletes to participate in the same movements.

“Carlos and Smith risked everything to stand for human rights and what they believed in, and they continue to inspire generation after generation to do the same,” the letter reads. “It is time for the Olympic and Paralympic movement to honor their bravery rather than denounce their actions.”

The letter from the AAC did not lay out a specific framework by which the athletes requested to be able to protest. Rather, they asked to have a voice in the decision-making.

“Instead, sports administrators must begin the responsible task of transparent collaboration with athletes and athlete groups (including independent athlete groups) to reshape the future of athlete expression at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the letter reads. “Let us work together to create a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights and the 7 principles of Olympism.”

The full letter from the AAC can be read below:

Athletes will no longer be silenced.

We are now at a crossroads. The IOC and IPC cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism. Instead, sports administrators must begin the responsible task of transparent collaboration with athletes and athlete groups (including independent athlete groups) to reshape the future of athlete expression at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Let us work together to create a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights and the 7 principles of Olympism.

Freedom of expression is recognized as a fundamental human right by the United Nations because it is essential to societal and individual well-being. Aligning with such principles will allow athletes to give the world hope beyond sport- hope that voices matter and are a powerful tool for change. The Olympic and Paralympic movement simultaneously honors athletes like John Carlos and Tommie Smith, displaying them in museums and praising their Olympic values, while prohibiting current athletes from following in their footsteps. Carlos and Smith risked everything to stand for human rights and what they believed in, and they continue to inspire generation after generation to do the same. It is time for the Olympic and Paralympic movement to honor their bravery rather than denounce their actions.

We expressed these sentiments on a call with the IOC Athlete Commission and appreciate them taking the time to listen to American athletes as well as reflect with John Carlos on the role Rule 50 has played in the oppression of athletes. This call was just the beginning of the collective work necessary to find a solution that respects and values the power and importance of the athlete voice for social change.

Sincerely,

Han Xiao, USOPC AAC Chair, Table Tennis
Cody Mattern, USOPC AAC Vice-Chair, Fencing
Bree Schaaf, USOPC AAC 2nd Vice-Chair, Bobsled
Moushaumi Robinson, USOPC AAC Leadership At Large, Track & Field
Sam Kavanagh, USOPC AAC Leadership At Large, Para-Cycling
Nick LaCava, USOPC AAC Leadership At Large, Rowing
John Carlos, 1968 Olympian

 

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Doconc

Great. Use your moment of athletic triumph to protest your country

If u need to kneel, consider not going to the competition or go to church, where kneeling is appropriate

Pvdh

If you don’t want to be a slave go to a country where slavery isn’t legal.

Jkj

Athletes have long used their platform for positive social change. You have every right to disagree with their beliefs but they have every right to use their platform to express theirs.

swimapologist

I fully agree with JKJ. The athletes can and should use their platforms to promote positive social change. That being said, I think most of us are looking at this through the lens of “American progressive young athletes protesting the treatment of black men by the US police.” In addition to those protests, here are other things that might be protested: -A Russian athlete wearing a shirt with the Russian flag to protest WADA’s ban -An Arab athlete protesting Israeli occupation of Palestine by refusing to get on the podium with an Israeli athlete -An Israeli athlete protesting treatment of Jews in Arab countries by refusing to get on the podium with an Arab athlete There are other more inflammatory… Read more »

Tim Dement

Jesse Owens demonstrates his abilities on the track and Good Sportsmanship… He made his point, clearly… The Olympic Goal is to Promote Peace Thru Sportsmanship. That is a Big Enough Goal… PEACE
Ps… I boxed in the 1972 Munich Olympics and was a by-stander during the Terrorist Attack inside the Olympic Village. It got real ugly. Focus on Good Sportsmanship between the Athletes.

Corn Pop

Good . Let us have everyone protesting Japanese whale & dolphin hunting .Then there is the proposed flush out t o sea of contaminated water from Fukushima . Then there are Okonawans a against US military bases & pollution .
Japan we are coming for you .Or is that not the idea?

Dude

Gross comment. And one that evinces a willful ignorance

Guerra

Follow the rules or don’t show up.

Scoobysnak

Lick boots or quit!

....

100%. I Don’t understand why some Americans have some kind of fetish to kneel in front of their flag…

SwimDad

If you haven’t seen worldwide protests on these issues, they are happening. This is not a U.S. issue, it’s global, and all athletes should have the freedom to show their support of these protests.

Yyyy

And they have the ability to show support, just outside of the games which are meant to be nonpolitical.

2Fat4Speed

It is not political, it is humanitarian.

Anonymous

The organizations working with the protests make it political when they donate to candidates the money that people believe is going to impoverished communities.

Anonymous

The arrogance of thinking it’s all about the US is glowing brightly. Big news here: the US is not the only country in the world.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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