Athletes who may be tempted to break the ban on protests at the Tokyo Olympics have been encouraged by the World Players Association and a German activist group to pledge to help them fight sanctions.
“We will work with our member organizations to ensure that brave athletes who stand up for human rights receive appropriate support, including legal and other means,” said Brendan Schwab, Executive Director of the World Players Association on Thursday.
The move came in response to the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced on Wednesday, to enforce its long-standing rule 50 ban on athletes’ protests at the Tokyo Games. The IOC cited a poll by the Athletes’ Commission which found that around 70% of those polled consider such protests to be inappropriate. “The political neutrality of the Olympics is a way to protect athletes from political interference and exploitation,” added the IOC.
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While athletes are free to voice their opinions at press conferences, on social media and other media, the ban applies to the field of play, official ceremonies and the medal podium. In these areas, rule 50 prohibits political, racist and religious propaganda by Olympic competitors. The IOC is expected to clarify its penalties before the Games begin on July 23. In some cases, violations could be sent home.
Social Germany, together with the World Players Association, criticized the decision and said that the competitors “should be free at any time to peacefully declare their support for the values of our free and democratic society”. The group promised to support members and minority athletes who are punished for standing up for “core values”.
Both groups also opposed the use of a poll to justify blanket restrictions blocking freedom of expression, especially when the views expressed could be represented by a minority of people.
“Human rights such as freedom of expression are universal,” said Athleten Germany. “Freedom of expression enables criticism of power and, in particular, protects the attitudes of minorities.”
The controversy comes amid the protests against Black Lives Matter that took place in the United States last year, as well as mounting political unrest around the world. Protests at sporting events, such as kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games, have sparked backlash from fans, many of whom view the sport as an escape from politics in their daily lives.
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The IOC numbers are to be challenged because of their prohibition of protest. American hammer throw champion Gwen Berry, who was put on parole by the US Olympic Committee in 2019 for winning gold at the Pan-Am Games – a reference to the iconic raising of fists with black gloves on the medal stand American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968 – expected athletes to give their opinion in Tokyo.
“That doesn’t put me off,” Berry said of the IOC ruling. “We will speak up. We will say what needs to be said. And we will do what has to be done. “
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