One of the most iconic images in U.S. Olympic history is the 1968 image of Black sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising gloved fists in solidarity with the Black Power movement while on the awards podium. The moment certainly represents the political discourse of the time, but it was exceedingly controversial.
In the last few years, athletes have become more outspoken about their beliefs, perhaps starting in 2017 with quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. While many team owners, politicians, college administrators and others wish that athletes kept their opinions to themselves, the general population seems increasingly open to sports stars speaking out about causes like Black Lives Matter.
I.O.C. say Rule 50 is still in place
The International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) has Rule 50, which it drafted after Smith and Carlos’ protest. It forbids any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” on the playing field, ceremonies and podiums. This makes sense considering the number of countries involved in the Olympics, some of which are inevitably at odds with the politics or culture of other countries, perhaps including the one hosting the global event. Nevertheless, it did make at least one concession – requiring team apparel to be unaltered but allowing for athletes to wear message T-shirts with slogans like “peace,” “respect,” “inclusion” and “equality.” Slogans like “Black Lives Matter” are not allowed.
The I.O.C. rule has no language regarding the discipline of athletes beyond saying it would be on a case-by-case basis, with punishment coming from the athlete’s home organization. So, it seems likely that these boundaries will be pushed in 2021.
U.S. says athletes will not face penalties
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced last December that it would not punish athletes who peacefully protest (kneeling, raising fists, etc.) during medal ceremonies.
“It is critical to state unequivocally that human rights are not political, and peaceful calls for equity and equality must not be confused with divisive demonstrations,” Sarah Hirshland, chief executive of the U.S.O.P.C., said in a letter on Thursday to American Olympic athletes.
Theoretically, the U.S.O.P.C. could bar or expel athletes or even strip them of their medals. However, it retracted punishments issues for displays during the Pan Am Games. So, it would seem that Tokyo will feature some demonstrations from athletes — at least the American ones, though others will likely follow suit.