Athletes will not be allowed to take a knee or protest against human rights abuses on the podium of Tokyo 2020 or the Beijing 2022 Olympics after two-thirds of competitors polled by the IOC said they supported a ban remaining in place.
The International Olympic Committee had come under sustained pressure to relax Rule 50, which stops athletes from demonstrating on the podium, the field of play or at opening and closing ceremonies, after the global anti-racism protests last year.
However, the IOC will keep the ban after a survey of 3,547 athletes from 185 countries found 70% believed the field of play and official ceremonies were not an appropriate place for protest: 67% supported a ban on podium protests.
Kirsty Coventry, the IOC Athletes Commission chair, declined to say what would happen to a modern-day Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American sprinters who raised their fists in a black power salute at the Mexico Games in 1968, but said lawyers were working on a proportionate response.
“I’m a not a lawyer so that is a little bit out of my realm,” she said. “We’re asking the Legal Affairs Commission commission to come up with a proportionate range of different sanctions so that everyone knows, going into going into a Games, what they can and cannot do.”
Athletes could still share their views at press conferences, but in the IOC Athletes’ Commission document athletes are reminded that freedom of speech “is not absolute” and “may be limited” under certain restrictions, which it said covers the Olympic Games.
Coventry did, however, promise there would be “increased opportunities for athletes expression during the Games”, such as including having a “moment of solidarity against discrimination” at the opening ceremony, which 48% of survey respondents rated as “important”.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has said it will not punish athletes for demonstrations such as kneeling or raising a fist.
The IOC president, Thomas Bach, promised the Olympic village would be safe for athletes. “In recent months, 340 major events have been staged with 40,000 athletes and none of these events have been a virus spreader and none of these events had the benefit of the vaccine,” he said. “The Olympic village will be a pretty safe place for everyone.”