Athletes group calls on Olympics to allow them to 'peacefully protest against social injustices'

Athletes group calls on Olympics to allow them to 'peacefully protest against social injustices'
© Clive Rose/Getty Images

A group of track and field athletes are calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change a rule that bans protests at the Olympics, with the board of The Athletics Association arguing that the rule “is in fact preventing athletes from displaying Olympism at the Olympic Games.”

The call from the newly-formed association comes months after the IOC underscored its support of the rule that doesn't allow protests by athletes during competition.

But the rule is coming under criticism amid widespread protests calling for racial justice around the world in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The track and field athletes hearkened back to the 1968 Olympics, when two U.S. athletes protested poverty and racism in the United States by raising black-gloved fists to the air on the podium as they accepted their medals and the U.S. national anthem was played.

"For too long athletes have been powerless and without a real voice. 52 years after Tommie Smith and John Carlos, supported by Peter Norman, peacefully protested on the medal podium following the 200 metres, very little has changed," the group said in a Friday statement.

Smith and Carlos were the U.S. athletes involved in the protest. Both are black, while Norman, who supported the protest, was a white athlete and medal-winner from Australia.

"52 years and the systemic racism that Tommie Smith and John Carlos were protesting against is still destroying communities and lives all over the world. And yet, athletes today have been warned that if they peacefully protest then they too will face sanctions and risk being disqualified or suspended."

"We strongly believe that if athletes are protesting in the spirit of Olympism, then to punish them for these peaceful protests goes against what the Olympics is supposed to represent and encourage," the statement said.

"We also call on National Olympic Committees around the world to support the athletes that represent their countries on the world’s biggest sporting stage, by guaranteeing that any athlete that peacefully protests in the spirit of Olympism will face no sanctions or punishment," it concludes.

In 2019, hammer thrower Gwen Berry was placed on probation by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee after raising her fist on the medal at the Pan-American Games last year in Lima, Peru.