Despite the many athletes challenging Rule 50, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) continues to defend its neutrality regulation. Rule 50 says that athletes may not engage in protest or political propaganda while on the Olympic stage. This rule has been called out over the past two weeks as worldwide protests for social equality have persisted as a result of the death of George Floyd.
Many track and field athletes are calling for change and insisting that if the IOC truly cared about supporting athletes, they wouldn’t limit their expression while on the field of play. The IOC reiterated its support for the rule earlier this year, ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, and has not given any indication it plans to change it, confirming to The Telegraph this week that “the guidelines are still in place” against protests.
While upholding Rule 50, the IOC still tweeted on Wednesday that they “condemn racism in the strongest terms.” Many athletes are saying their tweets aren’t enough.
.@olympics needs to start being part of the solution. Racism and inequality doesn’t take a two week break for the the Olympics and athletes from around the world desperately need this platform to bring visibility and a voice to the issues we face as a society. https://t.co/YVyq8bufYW
— Kevin Sullivan (@ksully330) June 10, 2020
Stories of athlete sanctions
Gwen Berry is an American hammer thrower who peacefully protested on the 2019 Pan Am Games podium. After bowing her head and raising her fist as she received her medal, Berry was put on athletic probation and sanctioned by the USATF. She expressed her frustration with what she referred to as the IOC’s hypocritical stance in an open letter:
“What infuriates me is the IOC’s own museum, in Lausanne, promotes and celebrates the importance of equality and respect,” she wrote. “The IOC website praises the sacrifice of athletes like Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Muhammad Ali for their protests that brought attention to issues of race and equality – and yet the IOC destroyed Tommie and John’s careers. The IOC’s website for athlete support, Athlete365, also recognizes the sacrifice and impact of the protests of Tommie, John and other athletes like Lee Evans. Yet the new Rule 50 for the Olympics ban any type of similar protest.”
The IOC’s reasoning
The IOC is standing by Rule 50 on the basis that it promotes the neutrality of the Games.
“Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values,” states the IOC. “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.”
The statement continues, saying, “It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.” However, as Berry and many before her have pointed out, nothing is truly separate from politics.