IOC should allow podium protests at Olympics
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CAPE TOWN – When the IOC announced a few weeks ago that they will maintain their stance of forbidding demonstrations on the podium and pitch at the Tokyo Olympics, I was left flabbergasted.
On the official Olympic website (olympics.com), it states that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter is there to protect the neutrality of sport and the Games, adding: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.
“Rule 50 is in place to keep the field of play, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations.
“We believe the focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance.”
But against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for racial equality across the globe, the IOC had a survey with athletes about whether Rule 50 should change.
The governing body said that 3 547 athletes took part, and that 67% wanted to keep the podium free of protests and 70% wanted to avoid on-field demonstrations.
But what happened to freedom of expression? The irony of the decision is that the motto for the Tokyo Olympics is “United by emotion”, which the IOC themselves say “emphasises the power of sport to bring together people from diverse backgrounds to connect and celebrate in a way that reaches beyond their differences”.
Yet, you cannot bring attention to those differences that split us apart in many respects, instead of bringing us together?
The World Players Association, which includes the likes of the International Rugby Players Association, FIFPro (football) and Fica (cricket) as members, expressed their unhappiness with the ruling.
“The World Players Association and its affiliates reiterate complete support for athletes who stand up for human rights and promote social justice positive societal change at the Olympics, including through peaceful protest on the field of play, podium or wherever else they may choose,” The World Players Association said.
Another group, Global Athlete, stated: “The IOC and the IPC’s very own rules outlined in the Olympic Charter Rule 50 are a clear breach of every athletes’ human rights.
“The IOC and IPC must respect article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference’.”
The devil in the detail from the IOC report is that one of their recommendations is to increase opportunities for athletes’ expression at the Olympics through various avenues such as branding and social media campaigns.
But another recommendation was that the podium, field of play and official ceremonies must be “preserved”.
What the IOC needed to do was preserve their integrity by allowing demonstrations on the podium in particular.
Who can ever forget the black-gloved raised fists salute from Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium for the 200m medal ceremony during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, while the United States anthem was played?