International Olympic Committee Says ‘No Kneeling, No Political Messages’ At Summer Games In Tokyo

On Thursday (January 9), the International Olympic Committee issued strict guidelines for athletes competing at this summer’s Games in Tokyo, according to The New York Times.

Athletes are not permitted kneel. No politically motivated hand gestures, and no political messages on signs or armbands. And absolutely no disruptions of medals ceremonies. 

According to the report, these guidelines were released after a meeting of the organization’s athlete commission. The challenge the I.O.C. is faced with is balancing an athlete’s right to speak out versus preventing a large scale international incident. 

“We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules,” said Kirsty Coventry, the chairwoman of the I.O.C. Athletes’ Commission, which oversaw the creation of the three-page document explaining what is not permitted. “The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”

In addition to clarity on what is not permitted, the guidelines also made clear what athletes could do to express themselves. 

Those areas include interviews and news conferences, including those conducted on the grounds of the Games, and through digital and traditional media outlets and “on other platforms.” Likely referencing social media.  

Athletes that violate any of these rules would be evaluated by an athlete’s national Olympic committee, the international federation for the sport involved, and the I.O.C. Any disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis “as necessary,” the I.O.C. said.

Protest is always “inconvenient” and is meant to disrupt the “natural order.” There is no bigger stage than the medal podiums at the Olympic Games. The image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised black-gloved fists at the 1968 Mexico City Games are forever etched in history. 

But clearly the I.O.C. wants a “controversy”-free Games. Kind of difficult when the very world the Games inhabit is rife with it.

(Photo: Robert Hradil/Getty Images)

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