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Tokyo 2020 Olympic organizers have reportedly banned the Games’ social media teams from posting photos of athletes taking a knee or engaging in other forms of political protest on official Tokyo 2020 social media accounts.
The directive was issued Tuesday, according to a report from the Guardian, as was specifically designed to keep images of the British women’s soccer team off the Games’ social media accounts, after Team GB pledged to “take a knee” in support of several black members of the U.K.’s men’s soccer team, who were hit with racial abuse online after missing penalty kicks in the European championships.
“An insider said the message was delivered from on high on Tuesday evening Tokyo time, with a specific reference to Team GB’s women’s first football match against Chile, just hours before it kicked off in Sapporo on Wednesday,” The Guardian reported Wednesday.
“The image of both teams taking the knee beforehand, in a protest against racism and online hate, was seen on live TV,” the outlet noted, adding that “none of these powerful pictures were posted on the official Tokyo 2020 live blog, or its Facebook and Twitter pages, or its Instagram site, which has more than half a million followers. They were also not seen on any of the IOC’s social channels.”
The American women’s soccer team also took a knee in protest before their match against Sweden on Wednesday. As The Daily Wire reported, the U.S. went on to lose to Sweden 3-0 in a crushing repeat of the same matchup at the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016.
The International Olympic Committee authorized political protests at the Games only recently. The IOC’s Rule 50 prohibits “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
This year, athletes will be allowed to engage in “peaceful political protest” provided those protests are not “disruptive.”
“Peaceful protest is now allowed on the field of play, provided it is done without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors. However, sanctions are still threatened for any protests made on the medal podium,” The Guardian noted.
The Olympic Committee, in comments made after the game, seemed to suggest that they would not broadcast images or videos of athlete protests on any official media feeds — traditional or social — because those feeds are, in turn, broadcast in countries where political protest is not allowed.
A spokesperson for the IOC, when confronted with the issue, said only that “the signal is distributed to all the broadcasters around the world with a huge TV audience.”
IOC president Thomas Bach did reiterate that taking a knee is a form of protest allowed under the new, relaxed, Olympic policies.
“It is allowed,” he said. “It is no violation of Rule 50. That is expressively what is allowed in these guidelines.”
American athletes were expected, in some cases, to take part in protests against racial equality and discrimination, and several Team USA athletes are well known for taking a political stance on an international stage. American hammer throw athlete Gwen Berry protested both at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and at the Pan-American Games, where she raised her fist during a medal ceremony — an action still forbidden under Olympic rules, according to ESPN. Several British athletes also say they may take a knee to protest racial inequality.