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Olympic rule on podium demonstrations stays in place with international athlete support

Official Olympic Flag

SEOUL, KOREA - FEBRUARY 1: A general view of the Official Olympic Flag taken during the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. (Photo by: Getty Images/Getty Images North America) Photo Illustration

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A rule disallowing certain Olympic athlete demonstrations, including hand gestures and kneeling, on medal podiums, in the field of play and at Opening and Closing Ceremonies remains in place after a majority of 3,457 international athletes surveyed supported it.

The International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission recommended increasing opportunities for athlete expression at the Games while keeping the current rule restricting demonstrations from Olympic venues.

The recommendations were made after a survey of athletes from 185 National Olympic Committees, including the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, and 41 Olympic sports.

The IOC Executive Board approved all six recommendations made by the commission. Most notably, ones regarding part of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

Seventy percent of athletes surveyed said the field of play and ceremonies were not appropriate places for competitor demonstrations or protests. Sixty-seven percent said the podium was not appropriate.

Athletes can express their views in other ways during the Olympics, including outside the venues, in press conferences and mixed zones and on social media.

“Rule 50 does not aim to silence athletes or make them apolitical,” according to the athletes’ commission report. “The IOC appreciates that athletes may wish to be vocal or political about issues they feel strongly about. Rule 50 aims to protect the political, religious and racial neutrality of a few strictly defined locations (field of play, Olympic Village) and of a few strictly defined moments (Olympic medal ceremonies, Opening, Closing and other official Ceremonies) which form the core of the Olympic Games.

“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.”

Since June, the commission spoke with athletes and National Olympic Committees to develop proposals on how Olympians can express themselves at the Games while keeping the Olympic Charter in mind.

Other approved recommendations included making available athlete apparel with proposed inclusive words: peace, respect, solidarity, inclusion and equality, and incorporating that messaging inside the Olympic Village; highlighting in ceremonies the importance of solidarity, unity and non-discrimination and changing the athletes’ oath read during the Opening Ceremony to include messaging on inclusion and non-discrimination.

Separately, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced in December that it will not sanction Team USA athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics “for peacefully and respectfully demonstrating in support of racial and social justice.”

Then in March, the USOPC announced that racial and social justice demonstrations that are respectful, including raising a fist or kneeling on a podium or start line, will be allowed at Olympic and Paralympic Trials events.

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