US Olympic, Paralympic Athletes Call on IOC to Abolish Rule Prohibiting Protests

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJune 27, 2020

The Olympic Rings are seen in front of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters at sunset in Lausanne on May 27, 2020. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
FABRICE COFFRINI/Getty Images

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee's Athletes Advisory Committee has asked the International Olympic Committee to abolish Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits athletes from protesting or making political statements at the Games.

The committee's letter contained the following excerpt, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

"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."

The IOC Athletes' Commission created Rule 50, which states the rule's purpose.

In sum, the committee believes "the example we set by competing with the world's best while living in harmony in the Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world."

As such, the committee has banned protests and various forms of political demonstration on the field of play, in the Olympic Village, during Olympic medal ceremonies and during the Opening or Closing Ceremonies.

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Athletes are allowed to "express their views" during press conferences or interviews, at team meetings or on various media platforms, however.

The IOC lists displaying political messaging, making physical gestures and refusing to follow Ceremony protocol as examples of protesting. Disciplinary action for violating Rule 50 is taken "on a case-by-case basis."

The Olympics have seen athlete protests before, perhaps none more notable than when United States track-and-field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested on the medal podium following the 200-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympic Games.

Both men raised their fists with black gloves and stood without shoes in protest of racial injustice in the United States. The two medal winners were soon banished from the Games.

Carlos co-signed the AAC's letter, which also stated that "athletes will no longer be silenced."

The AAC's requests come amid worldwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died in Minneapolis Police custody.

Many athletes stateside have taken part in protests, and all members of the NWSL's North Carolina Courage and Portland Thorns notably kneeled during the national anthem Saturday to "protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against Black people," per a joint statement from the teams.

The next Olympic Games on the schedule will take place in Tokyo in July and August of 2021.