‘Cowardice’: Olympics Committee Slammed for New Guidelines Barring Athletes From Kneeling, Raising Fists

By Andrea Germanos,  staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

The International Olympic Committee drew sharp criticism from rights advocates Thursday after the organization issued revised guidelines banning athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Games from staging protests at the event including kneeling during their national anthem or raising their fists into the air.

“So the IOC is doubling down on the disgraceful treatment of athletes in 1968?” askedSherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Ifill was referring to the iconic moment at the Mexico City Olympics when black Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, as they were awarded their gold and bronze medals, respectively, wore black gloves, took off their shoes, and held their fists high to protest poverty and racism. The IOC responded by expelling Smith and Carlos.

The IOC announced the guidelines for Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter Thursday. Among the specific actions (pdf) now banned are:

  • 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.

“When an individual makes their grievances, however legitimate, more important than the feelings of their competitors and the competition itself, the unity and harmony as well as the celebration of sport and human accomplishment are diminished,” the guidelines read. The new rules still allow athletes to express their views on social media and in interviews and at press conferences, the new document states.

Failure to abide by the guidelines will result in the athlete’s action being evaluated by their “respective National Olympic Committee, International Federation, and the IOC, and disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary.”

The update comes less than five months after the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) reprimanded U.S. athletes Race Imboden and Gwen Berry for their act of protest at the medal podium. Imboden kneeled to protest “the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart” including “a president who spreads hate,” and Berry protested social injustice in America.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was in the chorus of opposition to the IOC’s new guidelines, tweeting, “God how I despise these Olympic politician opportunists. I wouldn’t last one day on one of these committees…”

Critics pointed to the fact that while the new document asserts that the podium and playing field must be a politics-free zone, the IOC itself is not politically neutral.

“The truth is, it’s not the mixing of politics and sports that [IOC president Thomas] Bach and the IOC don’t like,” Nancy Armour opined Thursday at USA Today. “It’s the mixing of politics they don’t like with sports.”

She continued:

It’s just fine for Bach to lobby for the issues he finds important. Or to foster good relationships with world leaders who might someday bankrupt their economies in exchange for sparkling venues, five-star hotels, and Olympic traffic lanes that allow IOC members to avoid the general populace on the roads and in the airports.

But God forbid athletes should stay silent about racism, homophobia, inequality, or murderous regimes. You know, issues that have a direct effect on their lives.

That the types of protest now barred appear to take specific aim at black athletes wasn’t lost on other critics either.

Advocacy group People for the American Way rejected the new guidelines in a Twitter thread Friday that drew attention to an op-ed published at HuffPost in 2017 by Diallo Brooks, the group’s director of outreach and public engagement.

“The right to raise our voices, make a speech, march in a rally, or take a knee in protest—whether in front of a government building or a football field—is at the heart of what it means to live in a free country,” wrote Brooks.

“Young men of color who play sports are more than just entertainers, and they should not be penalized for speaking out peacefully against injustice,” he wrote. “They must be allowed to have a voice. And when their voices are threatened, we have to raise our own and stand with them.”

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  1. Butch

    Aside from permitting athletes to get radiated by the ongoing fukushima fall-(ab)out, totalitarian states always encroach on freedoms valiantly fought for and earned by populations. Thing is, people forget it is a NEVER-ENDING process and requires DAILY engagement.
    Lets everybody just pretend all is well by celebrating in the joy of human athletic accomplishment as everything in the world burns around us. Personally I cant wait for the facade!!!
    I forget, will there be a Palestine or Yemen contingent? Iranian?

  2. a different chris

    The Olympics have a weird problem nobody ever acknowledges — the time “at the top” of a sport is short, and the Olympics only happen every 4 years.

    This constrains the ability of the “best in the world” to win an actual gold medal. Too young at say 22, trip out of the gate at age 26, too old at 30.

    So why should they even bother? If I’m an athlete, particularly a black one, then I go set world records in other venues and tell the Olympics to stuff themselves. Nobody, not even the gross US white nationalists, are going to bother watching.

    “Hey, John Smith just won the 100 meter gold with a time of 10.1 seconds!!!”. Mmmm, Okay what’s on Netflix?

    Oh, and per Butch’s comment — doesn’t the Middle East grow some awe-inspiring weight lifters? But we never see them, of course…

  3. The Rev Kev

    Yeah, a word about the white dude on the left who is not swiveling his head at the salute and saying ‘dowhatnow?’ I read about him when he passed away. His name was Peter Norman and he was an Aussie Olympian. I will let Wikipedia take up the story here-

    “They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They asked him if he believed in God. Norman, who came from a Salvation Army background, said he believed strongly in God. We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, ‘I’ll stand with you’. Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes. He didn’t; ‘I saw love.'”
    On the way to the medal ceremony, Norman saw the (Olympic Project for Human Rights) badge being worn by Paul Hoffman, a white member of the US Rowing Team, and asked him if he could wear it. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos left his pair at the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

    And the story does not end there. “Norman died of a heart attack on 3 October 2006 in Melbourne at the age of 64. Thirty-eight years after the three made history, both Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.”

    1. John Wright

      Over the years I’ve read more of the history of the Smith-Carlos protest.

      First, Tommie Smith was not exactly a radical, he was actually in the ROTC (US military Reserve Officers Training Corps).

      After the protest, the US Olympic committee prohibited Smith and Carlos from competing again.

      Effectively their careers were killed at their peak because they did their protest.

      This was not the first time a triumphant athlete’s career was killed by US Olympic officials.

      After the great triumph of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the USOC required that Owens remain in Europe and to do running exhibitions.

      Owens rejected this requirement and headed back to the USA.

      In response, Owens was banned from competing again, killing his “amateur” career.

      BTW, In my mind, it is fitting that late Peter Norman STILL has the Australian 200 meter record after 50+ years.

      He was a standup guy.

  4. Brooklin Bridge

    Given our schizophrenic money grubbing fantasy peddling totally monopolized jingoistic shrink wrapped and super glossy media coverage of the vestiges of sometime sports events, I haven’t actually sat down to watch 3 or 4 milliseconds of one sport followed by 3 or 4 milliseconds of another since the old format, ’til it was done’, was abolished. And that was so long ago, I can’t even remember when it was. Presumably in the 70’s along with everything else that wasn’t pure profit driven.

    Indeed, the ONLY thing I might actually sit down to watch is (or used to be) who had the balls to make actual statements about actual issues other than the gossip reveals about the latest experiments with performance enhancing drugs.

  5. chuck roast

    And all this is something new?
    The Olympic Committee has been corrupt for almost a hundred years. Everybody loves the 1936 Olympics/Jesse Owens story. The shame of kicking the Jews Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller off the ’36 relay team has been conveniently whitewashed. Avery Brundage…a real saint.
    Does anybody still pay attention to the Olympics? But, man, I dearly miss the Soviet hockey team!

    1. political economist

      Don’t forget what Brundage did to Jim Thorpe. So, maybe it’s not “cowardice’ but business as usual.

    2. John Wright

      I miss “Eddie the Eagle”, English ski-jumper extra-ordinary (as in very, very ordinary)

      He was unafraid to finish last.


      “Michael Eddie Edwards (born 5 December 1963), known as “Eddie the Eagle”, is an English ski-jumper who in 1988 became the first competitor since 1928 to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping, finishing last in the 70 m and 90 m events”

    3. Big Tap

      Brundage was allegedly behind the switch at the 4 X 100 relay meet in 1936. To appease Hitler he removed the two Jewish athletes Marty Glickman (later a famous New York city sports announcer) and Sam Stoller. They were replaced by Ralph Metcalfe and Jesse Owens. The U.S. won the relay which gave Owens four gold medals.

  6. Synoia

    AKA: “You people need to know your place, and not embarrass your betters.”

    Twas ever thus.

    Butch’s comment is correct:

    “It is a NEVER-ENDING process and requires DAILY engagement”

  7. stevelaudig

    The Thirteenth Amendment promised the freed slaves “universal civil and political freedom.”28 The concept of the “badges and incidents of slavery” is meant to assist Congress in identifying ways in which it can fulfill that promise and, at the same time, to mark the outer boundaries of the Section 2 power.

    These limitations on, or punishments of, peaceful expressions which are universal civil and political freedoms are badges of slavery.

    Totalitarian states and the International Olympic Committee have this appetite for tyranny in common.

  8. lb

    There’s also a history of entire countries boycotting (or being uninvited) to the Olympic games. So, the more powerful entities (countries, the IOC effectively) may express political opinions, but individuals may not?

  9. Skip Intro

    I think the ban makes any protest statements that much more powerful. I’m sure the even handed application of standards on a ‘case-by-case basis’ will show the world exactly how apolitical the IOC is.

  10. Wukchumni

    Why watch when you can be the athlete instead?

    It doesn’t matter how you do when judged against others, the most important thing is doing it.

  11. Rosario

    Another reason to continue not watching the Olympics.

    I’ll add to the pile that every single athlete should be paid handsomely to train for years of their life and entertain the world with their feats of athleticism. The cynicism of the whole affair is shining quite bright at this point. The Olympic athletes have worked for free long enough.

    One off accolades and pride don’t pay the bills.

  12. Anthony G Stegman

    The American athletes who win gold medals at the Olympics in skating, skiing, and gymnastics earn millions afterwards. They will most certainly tow the IOC line. Other athletes may choose to ignore the IOC “rules” and do what they feel like doing on the medal stand. I know that I would. F**K the IOC!

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