USOPC Releases Guidelines for Protests at Olympic, Paralympic Trials Events

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 17

March 31st, 2021 News

The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee has announced its guidelines for demonstrations by athletes at upcoming U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Trials events in the United States.

Limited in scope, the USOPC’s document, titled “Participant Rules for Racial and Social Demonstrations,” will be a test for regulations in a politically-divided nation. As sports have become increasingly a pulpit for protests, debate has raged over the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50, which says that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

The USOPC, which has jurisdiction over all Olympic Trials events in the United States, is testing the waters with a less restrictive policy.

The USOPC will limit its rules to the venues themselves, meaning that once, for example, swimmers leave the CHI Health Center in Omaha, the restrictions are limited.

With specific focus on Racial & Social Justice Demonstration, which is expected to dominate the conversation, the USOPC says that they will allow R&S demonstration that “do not include any impermissible elements” and is aimed at “advancing racial and social justice” or “promoting the human dignity of individuals or groups that have been historically underrepresented, minoritized, or marginalized in their respective societal contexts.”

Among the specific approved demonstrations listed in the manual include:

  • Wearing a hat or face mask with phrases such as “Black Lives Matter” or “Trans Lives Matter” or words such “equality” or “justice”
  • Orally advocating for equity/equal rights for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, or other historically underrepresented, marginalized or
    minoritized populations.
  • Holding up one’s fist at the start line or on the podium.
  • Kneeling on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.
  • Advocating for equal treatment of underrepresented, marginalized, or minoritized
    groups around the world, or against systemic barriers to such equal treatment.
  • Advocating for communities free from police violence, or against systemic police
    discrimination against Black individuals or other marginalized populations.

The USOPC has listed impermissible elements, including wearing any clothing with a hate symbol or hate speech on it (the USOPC points to the list maintained by the Anti-Defemation League here, which includes 214 symbols). Among the items outlawed will be the confederate flag and the acronym “ACAB” which stands for “All Cops Are Bastards,” and is an anti-police slogan.

  • Wearing a hat or face mask with a hate symbol or hate speech on it. *A list of recognized hate symbols can be found at
  • Using language expressing hatred or Discriminatory Remarks towards a historically minoritized or marginalized group, including but not limited to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ individuals, and individuals with disabilities.
  • Making hand gestures affiliated with hate groups, like white supremacist or terrorist signs.
  • Violent protests or acts that damage property at the Trials Venue or physically threaten or harm other people.
  • Actions/behaviors physically impeding athletes’ right to compete, such as blocking lanes by laying on a track or otherwise interfering with a competition.
  • Display of historically discriminatory signs or flags, such as the Confederate flag.
  • Defacing, distorting, or causing physical harm to a national flag.
  • Protests aimed explicitly against a specific organization, person, or group of people.

In general, the USOPC seems to be trying to draw a line between protesting in favor of more rights for minority or underrepresented groups, and protesting against a certain group.

One example that could be prominent, in addition to the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, is the growing murmur over the Chinese treatment of the Uyhger minorities in China. In this example, promoting improved conditions, recognition, and rights for the Uyhger minorities in China would be acceptable, but protesting against the Chinese government would not be allowed: a subtle, but discernible, gap.

In a more sporting-specific example, jurors would have to delineate between, for example, a podium protest against an athlete convicted of doping, like we saw at the 2019 World Championships, and a protest in favor of ‘clean sport.’ In that case, an athlete’s public comments when asked about the protest may be scrutinized.

The USOPC says that punishments for violations of the rules will be proportionate to the violations and range from warnings and public apologies to removal of funding and disqualificaitons.

The USOPC specifically commits in the document to support participants’ rights to demonstrate within the guidelines, though warns that it would not take action against third parties (such as sponsors, politicians, or possibly even competitors) that criticize or take action against those athletes for their demonstrations.

The USOPC will continue to publicly support Participants’ right to engage in R&S Demonstrations under these Rules, and will not make any public statement intended to undercut or indicate a lack of support for a Participant’s R&S Demonstration. Participants should be aware of the possibility that third parties
may react to a R&S Demonstration themselves, that some of these reactions may be negative, that the USOPC will not be able to prevent those third parties from making statements or taking actions of their own, and that each Participant must make their own personal decision about the risks and benefits that may be involved.

The USOPC acknowledges in the document that “no policy can provide specific or definitive guidance for every possible demonstration” and offers athletes two outlets to ask questions about the policy, either by reaching out to USOPC Athlete Services ([email protected]), or via the Office of the Athlete Ombuds, which is an independent body designed to represent the interests of USOPC athletes at [email protected]

The USOPC is facing scrutiny from all sides, via athletes, the public, sponsors, and even Congress, over how it approaches demonstrations by its athletes. At the 2019 Pan American Games, the organization received criticism over its handling of podium protests. In the wake of the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, there was perceived hypocrisy after the USOPC released a statement that said they “stand with those who demand equality and [wants] to work in pursuit of that goal” after punishing two athletes (thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden) for the respective actions of raising a fist on the podium and kneeling on the podium when receiving medals.

After that, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland issued an apology and developed a committee to “challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress.”

The real challenge of the rules will come at the Olympic Games this summer, where the USOPC does not have ultimate jurisdiction. If the IOC chooses to remain hardline about its rules, a rule that is unlikely to completely quell podium protests even at its strictest, the USOPC could be caught between supporting their athletes and challenging the IOC.

The IOC has not made a final decision about Rule 50 in Tokyo, but has indicated after discussions with its Athletes’ Commission (led by former Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Kirsty Coventry) that podium protests would be outlawed, but that other opportunities for athletes to express their protests would likely be offered.

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1 year ago

The face of the woman in the picture says it all.

Corn Pop
1 year ago

Maybe someone in an isolated Tibet valley follows the 8th C rituals but it ain’t The Dalai lama ! Life was short & brutal & the ribbons that flew in the wind to mark constant death & disease now adorn Californian hallways & rustic tiled patios.
Are there any native American cultures stull living their 9th century dreams? I’m particularly interested in the NC tribes that had highly devious torture traditions . Yes you killed them off when there jobs galore at GBay. If only you had preserved their culture.

Irish Ringer
1 year ago

I have a feeling this will become an escalating circus act with everyone trying to do something more outrageous than those who protested before them that the message will be drowned out or presented with such a negative display it will lose its power.

Bruno Fratus
1 year ago

Good first step to get our voices heard

Last edited 1 year ago by Bruno Fratus
Breaking Bad News
1 year ago

“Corruption Free Olympic Movement Matters”

1 year ago

I understand if it’s interfering with the competition but there shouldn’t be restrictions. Also do Japanese laws affect this list?

1 year ago


What about when a Federation instructs their athletes not to compete against athletes from a specific country?

Reply to  ZH
1 year ago

Most US Olympic Trials meets are closed to athletes of other nations, so I guess USOPC is instructing their athletes not to compete agianst athletes from “any” other country, right?

Reply to  swimapologist
1 year ago

My mistake. I read this thinking that the IOC implemented the guidelines for all the federations not that this is specific to the US. My comments were directed to a long miserable history the IOC has had in pandering to certain countries and groups at the expense of others.

I wish we could ban all political expressions and just let the events and the athletes efforts and results speak for themselves.

Since the Olympics are run by a private organization their is no protection of free speech, they are entitled to make up their own rules to a point. That being said having the right to say something doesn’t mean you have to.

1 year ago

comment image
What about these?

Last edited 1 year ago by Swimmer

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of 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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