"It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference," the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday

By Dave Quinn
January 10, 2020 10:42 AM
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Credit: Tokyo 2020

Don’t expect to see anyone following Colin Kaepernick’s lead at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee published its list of guidelines for athletes, with rule 50 of the Olympic Charter barring any guests from staging political protests during the summer games.

Those include “displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands; gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling; and refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol,” according to the IOC.

“As athletes, we are passionate about our sports and achieving our sporting performance goals,” the guidelines say. “For each and every one of us, that passion continues into everyday life, where we advocate for change on issues of great importance to us and our world. That desire to drive change can naturally make it very tempting to use the platform of an appearance at the Olympic Games to make our point.”

“However….the unique nature of the Olympic Games enables athletes from all over the world to come together in peace and harmony,” the guidelines continue. “We believe that the example we set by competing with the world’s best while living in harmony in the Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world. This is why it is important, on both a personal and a global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations.”

That isn’t to say that athletes can’t still express their views.

“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” rule 50 states – adding that athletes do have the opportunities to express their opinions during press conferences, in interviews, at team meetings, and on social media.

“It should be noted that expressing views is different from protests and demonstrations,” the guidelines say.

Tommie Smith, John Carlos
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward and extend gloved hands skyward in a Black power salute after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in 1968.

The IOC’s guidelines are applicable to athletes, as well as any other accredited person — trainers, coaches, officials, etc.

Anyone who breaks protest rules at the Toyko Games, which kick off with the opening ceremony on July 24, will face three rounds of disciplinary action by the IOC, a sport’s governing body, and a national Olympic body.

“The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance,” the IOC said. “Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity.”

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

Protests have been a part of the Olympics past — most famously in 1968, when U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a black power salute after winning gold and bronze, respectfully, for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in 1968.

Coincidentally, though both men broke protocol back then and would be in violation of the rules now, they were given the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s highest honor in November 2019 with an induction into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame.