Athlete protests to be banned at Tokyo Olympics

·3-min read
England footballers take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter before last month's World Cup qualifier with San Marino at Wembley.
England footballers take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter before last month's World Cup qualifier with San Marino at Wembley.

By James Toney

Athletes will be banned from expressions of political protest at this summer's reorganised Olympic Games.

Despite the sight of footballers taking the knee, in support of Black Lives Matter, becoming common place in club and international football, it won't be allowed in Tokyo.

The International Olympic Committee's athletes' commission have spent the last 11 months consulting with peers around the world to come up with a set of recommendations and principles.

In total 3,547 Olympians completed their research, with 70 percent against using the most high-profile stages at the Games for any kind of protest.

"Our recommendation is to preserve the field of play and podium from protests or demonstrations of any kind," said IOC member Kirsty Coventry, a double Olympic swimming champion.

"We are now asking the IOC's legal affairs commission to come up with a proportionate range of sanctions, so everyone knows what they can and can't do."

This summer marks 53 years since American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black gloved fists on the 200m medal podium.

But behind the scenes the IOC, who have long zealously protected their position of political neutrality, were fearful Tokyo could become the 'protest Games'.

The British Olympic Association have said they would back any team member who wishes to take a knee, while hoping the collective will of all athletes would drive those personal decisions.

And the high-profile US Olympic Committee, who will bring one of the biggest delegations to Tokyo, have said no athlete will be penalised for political expressions at their forthcoming trials events.

“Some athletes may take the view that the field of play and the podium is sacrosanct," said Team GB chef de mission Mark England last summer.

"Some athletes may choose that actually it gives them the highest profile and therefore that is the right and appropriate place."

Meanwhile, IOC president Thomas Bach has shrugged aside concerns about the latest state of emergency declared in Tokyo to express full confidence in this summer's Games.

Organisers have already banned international travellers and will make a final decision about whether the event will be staged behind closed doors in June.

"We understand the state of emergency that has been decided upon by the government is restricted to the holiday week to prevent the spread of the virus," said Bach.

"It's a preventative measure for a limited time and in line with the very diligent approach they've taken.

"Our continued confidence is coming from scientific advice and our consultation with experts.

"We are also learning from the experience of the many events that have been successfully organised. It's a fact-based approach.

"In recent months 340 major events have been staged with 40,000 athletes and none of these events have been a virus spreader and none had the benefit of the vaccine. We believe that the Olympic village will be a pretty safe place for everyone."