IOC unveils limits on political protests by Olympic athletes

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) unveiled guidelines on Thursday detailing when and where athletes could engage in political protests during the 2020 Tokyo games.

The IOC said athletes are prohibited from protests and demonstrations while on the field of play, in the Olympic Village, during medal ceremonies and during the opening, closing and other official ceremonies.

Athletes are permitted to express their views during press conferences and interviews outside the village, in team meetings and on digital or traditional media.

Examples of prohibited protests include “displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands and gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.” 

The guidelines build on Rule 50 of the Olympic charter, which states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” 

The IOC, a not-for-profit independent international body made up of volunteers, said any incident that violates the charter or Rule 50 will be evaluated by the appropriate National Olympic Committee, International Federation and the IOC and that disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis.

The new guidelines come after the U.S. Olympic Committee disciplined two American athletes over medal podium protests at the Pan-American Games in Peru last August. Fencer Race Imboden kneeled, and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist in protest. Both were hit with a 12-month probation, a period that includes the Tokyo Olympics.

Perhaps the most famous Olympic protests were those at the 1968 games in Mexico City when American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in opposition to racial discrimination. 

The IOC said maintaining the games’ neutrality is key to promoting its inherent message of international harmony.

“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 in the guidelines.

“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.”

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