The International Olympic Committee recently posted a three-page guideline detailing new rules that will be in effect at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. No kneeling, no hand gestures, no protests of any kind will be acceptable at the Olympic Games this summer.
The new document stated that the Olympics, while noting that they support their athletes passion for change, was not the place to advocate: “The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance.”
In the past few years, sports have become a platform for athletes all across the globe to champion their individual causes. Most prominent of these cases was the protest of the United States National Anthem, started by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was joined by several more members of the NFL including Eric Reid and Jeremy Lane.
Football, at least American football, isn’t played in the Olympics; however, soccer is. Sports Illustrated 2019 Sportsperson of the Year Megan Rapinoe has famously protested the anthem since 2016. “I haven’t experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member’s body lying dead in the street,” Rapinoe wrote in a 2016 essay. “But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache.”
But the Star-Spangled Banner protest isn’t the only protest the world has seen on the sport stage. Several Olympic Games have seen protests from athletes all over the world. Protests stretch as far back as 1906 when Irish long jumper Peter O’Connor, with the help of his teammates, climbed a flag pole and waved the green flag of Ireland in order to advocate for an independent Ireland.
“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,” the IOC wrote. “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.”
Garrit Headley, a finance major at John Brown University, feels like athletes should be allowed to protest. “Traditionally, the Olympics are a spectacle that the world watches and is an opportunity for athletes from restrictive regimes and countries to express themselves freely,” Headley said. “Athletes from any country should have a voice, and this ruling takes that away.”
The reaction to the new ban was generally negative, with voices from across the world chiming in, including former Olympian and protester, John Carlos. Carlos is famous for his Black Power salute on the podium during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. “This is nonsense. They’re way out of line with this. They’re trying to take people’s rights away and it’s ridiculous,” Carlos said. “They are saying that they don’t want politics at the Olympics but this is a political move. The silencing of people is political.”
Sam Johnson, a journalism major at Bethel University, feels like the ruling could be detrimental for the future of the Olympic Games. “I think the ban is an unfortunate precedent to set for future games,” Johnson said. “Athletes should be allowed to express whatever feelings and views they have on social matters in any nonviolent way on any platform they choose.”
The committee’s move, whether the right one or not, will have a vast impact on the upcoming games in Tokyo. Rapinoe took to Instagram to express her feelings on the ban, saying, “There’s so much being done about protests. So little being done about what we are protesting about. We will not be silenced.”