IOC reverse athlete activism blackout - but debate rumbles on


By Mayowa Ayodele

Athletes taking the knee has been a topic covered here and just about everywhere else for the best part of a year nowFollowing the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to allow social media teams to publish footage of the act online it will remain a fixture of online visibility.

Glaring Omission

While fans may not have tuned into the opening round of Olympics activity to view their favorite athletes taking the knee, its absence from post-game highlight-reels was noted by a number of eagle eyed spectators. Several women's football teams, including Team GB, had taken the knee during Wednesday night's games in a continuation of the pre-match activism seen during the Euros. 

In an exclusive, The Guardian later revealed that the absence of the act from the official Tokyo 2020 social media channels was not a coincidence. The IOC and Tokyo 2020 officials had reportedly prohibited their media teams from sharing footage of the stance online. 

Manchester City's Caroline Weir takes before Wednesday's game

Rule 50

Controversy surrounding displays of activism at the games are not new and central to this is Rule 50. It was written into the Olympic Charter in 1975 and determined that "every kind of demonstration or propaganda, whether political, religious or racial, in the Olympic areas is forbidden." If it seems especially stringent, it's because that's the intention. The IOC maintains that the focus of the Games must remain on athletes’ performances and sport to protect the "international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance".

It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values. 

Last year, an IOC polling of 3,500 athletes found 67% in agreement that demonstrations should not take place on the podium, while 70% believed demonstrations on the field of play and at official ceremonies were inapporpiate.

So the athletes are in support?  

To a degree, but not entirely. Pressure from high-profile athletes was a factor in the decision to eventually relax elements of Rule 50 in early July. Per the BBC, athletes are able to "express their views" before and after competing but "cannot do so during events, victory ceremonies and at the Olympic Village."

Reading this will likely raise questions as to why these displays were ommitted from the official Olympic channels, and will only heighten the suspicion that the decision to acquiese to athlete and media pressure before the Games was an exercise in damaged limitation.

That the IOC have in more recent times moved to lionise acts such as John Carlos' black power salute, will also see spectators query where the line is drawn between denying and amplifying athlete activism.

A number of athletes have been clear in their belief that protest is a human right.

If you were to penalise someone for standing up against racial inequality, how on earth would that go, how on earth are you going to enforce that?

I see protesting and expressing yourself as a fundamental human right.

Dina Asher-Smith

The US Olympic Committee (USOC) for instance, have said they will not sanction athletes who decide to use social justice demonstrations. It has been suggested that they may even receive legal support should they face punishments for doing so. 

So all of this means athletes can still be punished?

Yes, while teams such as USOC will be looking to support athletes entangled in demonstration controversy, the current rules still prohibit demonstrations during events, victory ceremonies and at the Olympic Village. The latest change will see the official Olympic channels recognising 'taking the knee' on their media platforms, but this is a story that is far from over. 


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