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Olympians Promised Legal Support for Protests amid Threats of Punishment by IOC

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2021

A man walks by logos of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Pressure is building on Japanese organizers and the IOC to explain exactly how they plan to hold the Tokyo Olympics in the midst of a pandemic. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
Koji Sasahara/Associated Press

Two groups pledged legal support for athletes who protest or demonstrate during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which open July 23.

The Associated Press' Graham Dunbar spoke to representatives from the World Players Association union and Athleten Deutschland, who said they'd provide help for anybody who engages in a social justice display.

"This is precisely the outcome we expected," executive director of the World Players Association Brendan Schwab said. "The Olympic movement doesn't understand its own history better than the athletes."

The International Olympic Committee reiterated its ban on any sort of "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" ahead of the upcoming Olympic Games.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter outlines how any sort of unapproved advertising or political speech is prohibited for athletes. The IOC issued its Rule 50 guidelines Wednesday, confirming the measure will continue to apply:

"Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity.

"It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes' performance, and showcasing sport and its values."

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Athletes must refrain from protesting on the field of play, inside the Olympic Village, during the medal ceremony or during the opening and closing ceremonies. The IOC also shared three examples of actions that would be in violation of Rule 50:

"-Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands

-Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling

-Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol."

Any punishments "will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary."

Most famously, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in the Black Power salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Summer Olympics, which Smith later wrote was a "human rights salute."

The protest movement began gaining steam around the world after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem before games in 2016. Kaepernick told NFL Network's Steve Wyche at the time he was "not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor led to widespread protests around the United States last summer, which spread to other countries.

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