IOC: No kneeling, hand gestures at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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Athletes will not be permitted to kneel in protest, use hand gestures or display any political messages at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said.

The IOC published new guidelines for the Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 on Thursday specifying which types of athlete protests will not be allowed at the 2020 Summer Games, which will run from July 24 to August 9 in the Japanese capital. 

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Under Rule 50, athletes are prohibited from taking a political stand in the field of play, like the raised fists by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

“We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules,” said Kirsty Coventry, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which oversaw the new three-page document.

“The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”

Participants who break protest rules face three rounds of disciplinary action – by the IOC, a sport’s governing body, and a national Olympic body.

They can still express political opinions in official media settings, team meetings or on social media accounts.

“It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference,” the IOC document states, urging “the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance”.

‘Divisive situation’

The new guidelines came after two US athletes were reprimanded by the US Olympic Committee for medal podium protests at the Pan-American Games in August in Lima, Peru.

Fencer Race Imboden kneeled and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist in protest. Both were put on probation for 12 months, a period that covers the Tokyo Olympics.

Other protests in 2019 included swimmers from Australia and Britain refusing to join world championship gold medallist Sun Yang on the podium because the Chinese star has been implicated in doping violations.

Lima 2019 Pan Am Games - Day 14

Gold medal-winning fencer Race Imboden of the US took a knee at the awards presentation at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima [Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images]

At the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam el-Shehaby was sent home after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson after their bout.

IOC President Thomas Bach said politicians and athletes should keep politics out of this year’s Games to protect the event’s neutrality and its status as a peaceful meeting place.

“The mission of the Olympics is to unite and not to divide. We are the only event in the world that gets the entire world together in a peaceful competition,” Bach told reporters after a meeting with Coventry on Thursday.

“I ask them [politicians and athletes] to respect this mission of the Olympic Games and in order to accomplish this mission we must be politically neutral.

“Otherwise we would end up in this divisive and boycott situation. I ask them to respect this political neutrality by not using them [the Olympics] as a stage for their political purposes.”

Thursday’s meeting between the IOC executive board and athletes’ panel also discussed the Charter’s Rule 40, which strictly limits an athlete’s ability to promote their sponsors during official Olympic Games periods.

IOC: No kneeling, hand gestures at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Athletes will not be permitted to kneel in protest, use hand gestures or display any political messages at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said.

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