The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday announced that it will enforce its rule banning athletes from demonstrating at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, noting that kneeling or raising a fist will bring swift punishment.
The IOC’s “Rule 50” says that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” But the committee reviewed the policy after professional American athletes protested their own national anthem.
In a report explaining its decision, the IOC said it conducted a survey of more than 3,500 international athletes across the globe over the last year and found that “a clear majority of athletes believe that it is not appropriate for athletes to demonstrate or express their views” during the Games.
“I would not want something to distract from my competition and take away from that. That is how I still feel today,” said IOC’s Athletes’ Commission chief Kirsty Coventry, a former Olympic swimming champion for Zimbabwe, according to Reuters.
Asked if athletes will be punished for violations, Coventry said, “Yes, that is correct.”
“That is also because of the majority of athletes we spoke to — that is what they are requesting for,” she said.
In its report, the IOC said, “Although the restriction imposed by Rule 50 may appear too sweeping, especially if compared to some sports organizations which allow expression in support of social (as opposed to political) causes, there are significant difficulties that an organization as diverse and universal as the IOC would face in distinguishing between admissible and inadmissible causes. For this reason, a blanket of neutrality is deemed an appropriate and proportionate solution, including from a human rights perspective, given the risk of politicizing the IOC and alienating countries or athletes.”
The ruling comes a week after a top Japanese official said this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo could be canceled because of a recent resurgence of COVID-19 in countries across the world that plan to participate, according to a new report.
Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, told a Japanese broadcaster that if the games seem “impossible to do … then we have to stop, decisively,” Reuters reported.
He said cancellation is “of course” an option, adding: “If the Olympics were to spread infection, then what are the Olympics for?”
But Reuters said the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee released a statement saying those preparing for the Games remain fully committed to hosting them beginning on July 23.
Olympic officials have hoped that infection rates would drop as vaccines spread across the world, but some nations are seeing new spikes. India, for example, on Thursday announced 200,000 new cases. Even Tokyo has recorded a jump in new COVID-19 cases, presenting more concerns.
The Tokyo Olympics have already been delayed a year and the estimated cost tops $15 billion.
Even if the Games go off, it will be a TV-only event. “Fans from abroad are banned, tourism is out, and there’ll be no room for neighborhood partying. Athletes are being told to arrive late, leave early and maneuver around a moving maze of rules,” The Associated Press reported.