IOC loosens ban on protest ahead of Tokyo Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is loosening its ban on protests and rules against athlete expression for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

The IOC's executive board voted to approve guidelines clarifying Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which prohibits athletes from making any sort of political expression, particularly on medal podiums, in the field of play and at opening and closing ceremonies. 

Athletes have pushed back on the rule for years and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee took the unprecedented step in December of urging the IOC to "end the prohibition of peaceful demonstrations."  

The new policy allows athletes to protest on the field of play before their competition, but it maintains that athletes are not allowed to protest on the medal stand. Athletes can protest after leaving the "call room" or similar area or during the introduction of the athlete or athlete's team, per the release by the IOC. 

IOC adjusts protest ban

The gestures must follow four sub-guidelines within Rule 50.2. It must be: 

  • "consistent with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism;"

  • not be targeted directly or indirectly against people, countries, organizations "and/or their dignity;"

  • not be disruptive, for example expressions during another athlete's national anthem or introduction, or physical interference as such; 

  • not prohibited or limited by rules of the relevant National Olympic Committee (NOC) or relevant international federation. 

The guidelines go on to say: 

“When expressing their views, athletes are expected to respect the applicable laws, the Olympic values and their fellow athletes. It should be recognized that any behavior and/or expression that constitutes or signals discrimination, hatred, hostility or the potential for violence on any basis whatsoever is contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”

The new policies come out of discussions with the global athletes' community, IOC Athletes Commission chair Kirsty Coventry said. 

IOC stance came under scrutiny of US athletes, USOPC

Olympic rings in Tokyo.
Certain ways of demonstration will be allowed at the Olympics after a new rule. (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Rule 50 has banned demonstrations for decades, but in recent years has come under intense scrutiny from U.S. athletes. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd last May, the USOPC began a racial and social justice council. 

From its recommendation, the USOPC called on the IOC to end its ban of protests. It set its own detailed rules in March that allow athletes to demonstrate at Olympic trials.

Athletes made note that many of the demonstrations they were trying to make at the Olympic games were exemplary of "the goals of Olympism." 

The IOC stood by its protest and demonstration stance in April when the IOC executive board "unanimously approved" the recommendation of its own Athletes' Commission that it keep them. It came after a 10-month review of the rules. 

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