LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Athletes at the Tokyo Olympics this summer have been told that they better not protest on the field, on the medal stand or in the Olympic Village, according to new guidelines.
Athletes will be allowed to express their opinions on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. They can also do it when being interviewed at news conferences or in an area called the mixed zone, according to the International Olympic Committee.
US hammer thrower Gwen Berry has hit out against the new guidelines, expressing concerns over what she calls “a form of control” and “silencing.”
In August 2019 as the US national anthem was played at the Pan American Games in Peru, Berry raised her fist after she won gold.
Speaking to Yahoo Sports, Berry said: “We sacrifice for something for four years, and we’re at our highest moment. We should be able to say whatever we want to say, do whatever we have to do — for our brand, our culture, the people who support us, the countries that support us, [everything]. We shouldn’t be silenced. It definitely is a form of control.”
However, the three-page guidelines handed out by the IOC insist that expressing views is different from protesting and demonstrating.
“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,” a message from the IOC Athletes’ Commission says.
“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.”
Rule 50 of the Olympic charter says athletes will engage in “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
The guidelines ban podium protests, such as the black-gloved fists of US Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory dais after the men’s 200 meters at the 1968 Olympics.
While Berry raised her fist at the Pan American Games last year, American gold medalist fencer Race Imboden took a knee as the national anthem.
That was a nod to NFL star Colin Kaepernick’s protest at the treatment of people of color by US police.
Kaepernick hasn’t played in the league since the 2016 season — when he first sat during the playing of the anthem. He has said the protest evolved into kneeling after onetime Seattle Seahawk and Green Beret Nate Boyer persuaded him it would be more respectful to the nation’s military.
The new ban extends to political signs or armbands and to the opening and closing ceremonies. It applies to other people with credentials, including coaches, officials and training staff.
Any possible violations will be investigated by the IOC, the federation that governs the sport involved, and the organizing committee of the nation the person is from. There is no stated punishment for people who break the rule.
The opening ceremony for the Olympics is July 24.