Olympic athletes will be punished if they kneel or raise a fist to protest racial inequality during the upcoming Tokyo Games.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that they would uphold a rule that forbids “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” by athletes during competitions, at ceremonies, or on podiums.
Despite a push to amend the rule to allow athletes to openly protest at the games in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, an IOC survey of 3,500 athletes found that 70% of respondents said it is “not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views” during competition or ceremonies, and 67% disapproved of demonstrating at the podium.
IOC’s Athletes’ Commission chief Kirsty Coventry, a former Olympic swimming champion from Zimbabwe, said athletes would be punished for making political statements at the Games, “because of the majority of athletes we spoke to. That is what they are requesting.” The punishments that Coventry described as “proportionate,” have yet to be defined and will be drafted prior to the July 23 start of Opening Ceremonies.
Though the IOC made concessions to add references to “inclusion and equality” to the Olympic Oath and allow apparel inclusions for approved words “peace, respect, solidarity, inclusion and equality,” wearing BLM gear will be strictly prohibited.
American four-time gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross is “outraged” by the policy and hopes Olympians defy it. “I think that the athletes that feel compelled will do it regardless, good luck with people paying fines for being able to express themselves,” she said. I just think ultimately the IOC thinks it’s a distraction and I think it’s an unfortunate decision.”