News and Commentary

Chinese Olympians Face IOC Probe Over Mao Pins Worn In Medal Ceremony
IZU, JAPAN - AUGUST 02: Gold medalists Zhong Tianshi and Bao Shanju of Team China pose during the medal ceremony for the Women's Team Sprint Finals of the Track Cycling on day ten of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Velodrome on August 2, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Wei Zheng/CHINASPORTS/VCG via Getty Images)
Wei Zheng/CHINASPORTS/VCG via Getty Images

Two Chinese Olympians are facing a probe from the International Olympic Committee over a possible violation of Rule 50 stemming from their decision to wear pins with Mao Zedong’s face on them for their medal ceremony.

The IOC’s Rule 50 prohibits political demonstrations and protests at the Olympic Games. For the Tokyo Games, the International Olympic Committee loosened the rules, giving athletes the option to protest or demonstrate, generally, but still prohibiting political displays on the field of play and on the podium during medal ceremonies.

“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” Rule 50 notes. If athletes are ruled to have violated Rule 50, they could be disqualified or forced to withdraw from competition. In extreme cases, the IOC retains the right to revoke credentials for an entire delegation, similar to the way the body handles proven allegations of doping.

The Chinese pair will face an inquiry over their choice of medal ceremony attire.

“Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi won gold in the women’s sprint in track cycling on Monday, and when they took the podium to receive their medals, both were pictured wearing red Mao pins,” Fox News reported.

The pair were otherwise outfitted in their Chinese team uniform, which includes a white track jacket and red face mask. The duo added the Mao pins next to the Chinese flag, which is stitched to the jacket’s left breast.

“Badges showing Mao’s profile were worn by hundreds of millions of people in the 1960s to show their loyalty to the Communist Party chairman and the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution he launched in 1966,” Fox noted. Under the IOC’s rules, the pins could be considered “political propaganda.”

“We have contacted the Chinese Olympic Committee, asked them for a report about the situation,” a spokesperson for the IOC confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

The IOC is also reportedly looking into the case of Raven Saunders, the Team USA shot putter who took second place in competition over the weekend. Saunders, who reportedly faced the Chinese flag during that country’s national anthem, raised her arms over her head in an “X” during the American national anthem in a medal-stand demonstration against racial inequality and “oppression.”

The U.S. Olympic Committee did not say whether Saunders is under investigation from the IOC, but did say that they support her right to protest, noting that Saunders “was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration.”

Protest has been a theme of the Tokyo Olympics, at least for western athletes, though few who focused on social justice in their early Olympic trials have ultimately made the medal podium.

The American women’s soccer team kicked off the Olympics by taking a knee in solidarity with victims of racial animus during their first game in Tokyo. The team lost its semifinal game to Canada and will compete for the bronze medal. Gwen Berry, the American hammer thrower who said she would stage a protest on the medal podium if she placed in the top three in her event, came in 11th overall.

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