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U.S. Olympic committee announces athletes will be allowed to protest racial injustice

U.S. Olympic committee announces athletes will be allowed to protest racial injustice
© Clive Rose/Getty Images

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced Thursday that it will not sanction athletes who choose to "peacefully and respectfully" engage in demonstrations in support of racial or social justice causes.

"First and foremost, it is critical to state unequivocally that human rights are not political," USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland said in a statement. "Peaceful calls for equity and equality must not be confused with divisive demonstrations."

Guidelines previously set in place ahead of Tokyo's summer games stated, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The regulations were aimed at keeping athletes focused and keeping the sporting field a neutral space for all.

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The rule around demonstrations was originally set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), according to a spokesperson for the USOPC. The spokesperson said that national Olympic committees have always historically enforced the policy. 

The announcement however, amends the practice of enforcement if an athlete peacefully chooses demonstrate against racial injustice. 

In July, a group of track and field athletes called on the (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."

"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," the track and field athletes said in a statement at the time. "And yet, athletes today have been warned that if they peacefully protest then they too will face sanctions and risk being disqualified or suspended."

Hirshland acknowledged the committee's shortcomings in previously taking action against athletes who were exercising their right to protest, saying they should have supported the athletes instead of condemning them.

"For that, I apologize, and look forward to a future when rules are clear, intentions are understood, and voices are empowered," Hirshland said. "The USOPC's decision recognized that Team USA athletes serve as a beacon of inspiration and unity globally, and their voices have and will be a force for good and progress in our society."

Updated Dec. 11, 9:45 a.m.