The Olympic Charter’s Rule 50 prohibits political statements on the field or in the arena during events. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee just told its athletes that the longstanding guideline need not be followed, at least not during the Olympic trials.
In guidance sent to athletes in advance of the trials for this summer’s delayed Tokyo Olympiad, the USOPC said it “believes that their right to advocate for racial and social justice aligns with the fundamental values of equality that define Team USA and the Olympic and Paralympic movements.”
The document outlines a set of permissible and impermissible behaviors. Among them? “Kneeling on the podium or at the start line during the national anthem.”
Other things athletes may do include:
• “Wearing a hat with phrases such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Trans Lives Matter’ or words such ‘equality’ or ‘respect.”
• “Orally advocating for equity/equal rights for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals, or other historically underrepresented, marginalized or minoritized populations.”
• “Holding up one’s fist at the start line or on the podium.”
Participants cannot wear “a hat with a hate symbol or hate speech on it” or make “hand gestures affiliated with hate groups.”
In addition, protests must not be violent, deface or “distort” a national flag, or be “aimed explicitly against a specific organization, person or group of people.”
“I want to thank all members of the Council on Racial and Social Justice — athletes, NGB and USOPC staff, and outside experts — who gave their time and perspective to this process,” USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a March 30 letter.
“When you came forward with your recommendations in December, they reflected specific themes of social injustice and inequality that are prevalent in our society and addressed how those themes directly and personally impact the lives of America’s elite athletes.”
Athletes, she said, “also made it clear there is a deep desire for Team USA athletes to speak on these issues, and to lead as a positive force in our community.”
The thing is, they can’t do that at the actual games, at least not in the ways adumbrated in the guidance the USOPC issued.
Last year, the International Olympic Committee said taking a knee or making hand gestures of any sort wouldn’t be allowed at the games. That still stands — this is just at the trials, after all, which is in the United States and determines who goes to the Games — but it sets the tone.
“We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules,” Kirsty Coventry, chairwoman of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, said last year, according to The Associated Press. “The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes.”
At the time that guidance was announced, the U.S. team’s most visible anthem refusenik — U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team star Megan Rapinoe — spoke out against the fact the IOC was enforcing a rule that’s on the books.
“So much for being done about the protests,” Rapinoe said. “So little being done about what we are protesting about. We will not be silenced.”
Granted, she won’t have to go through the trials process, being part of a team sport. However, for the social justice contingent looking to make some kind of divisive splash before this summer’s games, this is great news.
Furthermore, one of the athletes that the USOPC put on probation after a political incident at an international competition said she believes it’s a sign the national team will put its weight behind defending any athletes who violate Rule 50 in Tokyo, according to The Washington Post.
“Real issues are highlighted when people have support,” said hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who raised her fist on the podium at the 2019 Pan American Games. “When people don’t have support, they’ll just hide in the shadows and they won’t say anything. The fact that we do have support now, you never know how somebody will flourish and the issues some people will talk about.”
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 11, 2019
And in case you didn’t catch the subtext behind what the USOPC won’t allow athletes to do at the trials, you might get a better idea by listening to Berry talk about why she’s so pleased with the organization’s guidance.
“I feel like it was important that they did include things that they will not allow,” Berry said. “Things that are discriminatory. Things that will not enhance the growth of any type of social reform.
“I think that was really important to put in there. Some people might try to rebel. They might say, ‘Well since this issue can be highlighted or acknowledge, why can’t this?’ The details in what is allowed and not allowed, I feel like they did a very good with implementing that.”
Yes, don’t rebel and try to advocate anything that might “enhance the growth of any type of social reform.” Don’t rebel against their brave rebellion by thinking that your ideas — if they happen to be of a socially conservative bent — deserve to be lent credence.
“I feel like it’s a victory for all the black athletes in America who do feel that America has more work to do as far as supporting people who look like us,” Berry said. “It’s a victory for everybody, honestly.”
I mean, except for those bad rebels.
Let’s keep in mind what Rule 50 says and why it’s in place. First, the text: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Here’s the why, according to IOC guidelines:
“The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance.
“Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity.
“It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values.”
But that’s not what this is about. We’re going to see a parade of wokeness — all at the cost of national unity, which is what the Olympic Games are supposed to engender.
But if you don’t like this, you’re expected to shut up.
That’s how we’re all going to unite.
Our Olympic committee is supposed to bring us together, starting with respecting the national anthem. Instead, it has stabbed us in the back.
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