Olympics bans ‘Black Lives Matter’ apparel, could punish athletes for social protests

Sports

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The postponed 2020 Summer Olympics are just 80 days away from taking place in Tokyo against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be an Olympics unlike any other — with no international fans.

Athletes will have to pass a battery of nasal COVID-19 tests and are just one positive result away from ruining years of hard work and training.

Millions of eyes will be on the Games all over the world. It’s a tremendous stage — both for athletic triumph and possibly social change. Who can forget this image of Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos with fists raised during the 1968 Olympic Games to protest racism.

US athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists in the Black Power salute to express their opposition to racism in the USA during the US national anthem, after receiving their medals on Oct. 17, 1968 for first and third place in the men’s 200m event at the Mexico Olympic Games. At left is Peter Norman of Australia who took second place. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

But the Olympics continue to ban athlete protests and could punish athletes who choose to protest anyway. That means raising a fist or kneeling during the national anthem as many professional U.S. athletes have done over the past year risks punishment.

Those athletes could even be sent home.

IOC bans ‘Black Lives Matter’ gear

The International Olympic Committee got very granular with what is not allowed. It said specifically that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” will be banned from athlete apparel at the Summer Olympics.

It’s part of the IOC’s long-standing ban on “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” on the playing field, the medal stand or during the Games’ official ceremonies.

More generic words like “peace,” “respect,” “solidarity,” “inclusion” and “equality” will be allowed on T-shirts.

So far, the IOC has not said what types of punishment athletes could face for violating these rules. It only said it would treat each violation on a case-by-case basis.

United States players wear a sweater with the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and most take the knee as the national anthem is played prior to the international friendly women’s soccer match between The Netherlands and the US at the Rat Verlegh stadium in Breda, southern Netherlands, Friday Nov. 27, 2020. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Pool via AP)

IOC says majority of athletes support ban on protests

The IOC athletes’ commission cited support to uphold Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter from more than two-thirds of about 3,500 replies from consulting athlete groups. The IOC said 70% of athletes polled do not think it’s appropriate to demonstrate during competition, and 67% said it’s not appropriate either on the medal stand.

Athletes breaching Rule 50 can be sanctioned by three bodies: the IOC, their sport’s governing body, and their national Olympic committee (NOC).

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee pledged in December not to sanction athletes for peacefully protesting at the Olympic trials.

Many governing bodies for different Olympic sports also have said they would not punish athletes for protesting, including World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field.

Nonprofits step up to support athletes, push to reform ‘Rule 50’

Many groups have promised legal support for athletes who protest. The World Players Association union said the IOC’s decision was a move it expected.

“Any athlete sanctioned at the Tokyo Olympics will have the full backing of the World Players,” said Brendan Schwab, the union’s executive director.

And the group Global Athlete also issued a statement, encouraging athletes to “not allow outdated ‘sports rules’ to supersede your basic human rights.”

Noah Hoffman is heavily involved with Global Athlete. He’s a two-time Olympian, having competed in cross-country skiing in both Sochi in 2014 and PyeongChang in 2018. Though he thoroughly enjoyed both of his Olympic experiences, he told Nexstar’s Andrew Marden that he strongly believes that it is time to “elevate the voice of the international athlete.”

“We envision an Olympics where the athletes are the center of the show, more than the host country or the politics around it or the sponsors,” Hoffman said. “It is this huge spectacle where the athletes are an afterthought.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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