US athletes bid to strike out Rule 50 banning protests at Olympics
US athletes are calling for the International Olympic Committee to scrap its rule banning protests at the Olympic Games.
The campaign is being driven by the athletes’ advisory council of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and John Carlos, a former athletics star, with the demand to abolish IOC Charter Rule 50 made in a letter published on Saturday.
It followed a conference call with the IOC athletes’ commission on Thursday.
The US athletes are demanding the right to protest to show their support for campaigns such as Black Lives Matter, which has gathered momentum following the death of a black man George Floyd as he was being arrested by police officers in Minneapolis last month.
Rule 50 reads: “No kind of demonstration or political or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other arenas.”
Athletes have been barred from conducting protests for decades, in the wake of the famous black power salute of raised fists given by Carlos and Tommie Smith at a medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
Saturday’s letter calls on the IOC to “develop a new policy in direct collaboration with independent, worldwide athlete representatives that protects athletes’ freedom of expression at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
Earlier this month, Thomas Bach indicated that the IOC is willing to soften its stance on political gestures at the Olympics, with talks to be held with athletes.
While athletes are allowed to express opinions in interviews and on social media, gestures such as raising a fist or taking a knee on a media podium are currently prohibited, with the IOC having reaffirmed its stance in January.
The letter from the US athletes read: “We are now at a crossroads. The IOC and IPC cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism.
“Instead, sports administrators must begin the responsible task of transparent collaboration with athletes and athlete groups (including independent athlete groups) to reshape the future of athlete expression at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Let us work together to create a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights and the 7 principles of Olympism.”
In addition to Carlos, the US letter was signed by table tennis player Han Xiao, fencer Cody Mattern, bobsledder Bress Schaaf, track and field athlete Moushaumi Robinson, para-cyclist Sam Cavanaugh and rower Nick LaCava.
There is also growing pressure in the UK for athletes to be able to protest at the Olympics, with the British Athletes Commission to meet next week to discuss what approach to take, according to the UK’s Times newspaper.
Participants taking a knee in support of Black Lives Matter has been a familiar sight before sports events this month, including at matches in English soccer’s Premier League.