The Sports Examiner: IOC approves “athlete expression” in Tokyo, but not protests in the 1968 style

From our sister site,

The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board adopted a five-page set of guidelines to Olympic Charter rule 50.2 concerning protests and demonstrations at the Tokyo Games that maintains most restrictions, but opens a new opportunity.

What’s clear is that most of the old restrictions still apply. “Expressions are not permitted in the following instances:

● “During official ceremonies (including Olympic medal ceremonies, opening and closing ceremonies)

● “During competition on the field of play

● ”In the Olympic Village.”

What is new is “expression” in a new forum:

“On the field of play prior to the start of the competition (i.e. after leaving the ‘call room’ (or similar area) or during the introduction of the individual athlete or team) provided that the expression (for example, gesture) is:

“I. consistent with the Fundamental Principles of Olympism;

“II. not targeted, directly or indirectly, against people, countries, organisations and/or their dignity;

“III. not disruptive (by way of example only, the following expressions are considered disruptive: expressions during another athlete’s or team’s national anthem and/or introduction, as this may interfere with such other athlete’s or team’s concentration on and/or preparation for the competition; physical interference with the introduction of another athlete or team or the protocol itself (for example by unfurling a flag, a banner etc.); causing (or assuming the risk of causing) physical harm to persons or property, etc.); and

“IV. not prohibited or otherwise limited by the rules of the relevant National Olympic Committee (NOC) and/or the competition regulations of the relevant International Federation (IF).”

The regulations further explain that “It should be recognised that any behaviour and/or expression that constitutes or signals discrimination, hatred, hostility or the potential for violence on any basis whatsoever is contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.”

There is a procedure for discipline, which includes the right to a hearing, but with sanctions to be handled by the IOC itself, not by another party, such as a National Olympic Committee or International Federation.

Today’s posting of these guidelines was a surprise is that it did not come from the IOC’s Legal Affairs Commission as had been indicated earlier, but from the IOC and its Athletes’ Commission, chaired by swimming gold medalist Kirsty Coventry (ZIM).

Observed: This is really clever and allows the IOC to claim, correctly, that it has loosened its rules, but in such a narrow forum as to limit the impact of any demonstrations or protests in most of its sports.

The time for on-field egress and introductions is short and for those interested in protesting, the attention of the television cameras is what’s important. Introductions on television in the most popular sports – swimming, gymnastics and athletics – are usually just a few seconds long and are at a time when the athletes are most concerned about their competitions. Maybe a few gloves with embroidered slogans will be worn. There may be more opportunities in team sports, but this will also depend on how the teams will actually be introduced in Tokyo.

This is a much more compact forum than the two-plus minutes of a national anthem on the awards podium, or during the hour-plus march into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies.

Rest assured, however, there will be those who will challenge these guidelines, but the IOC has set up a fairly clear process and promises a proportionate response to any violations. Whether this works or not is yet to be seen, but once again, the IOC has shown it is not to be underestimated in creating an innovative solution to a difficult issue that allows more flexibility but also limits its exposure to difficulties.

~ Rich Perelman

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