Megan Rapinoe and others respond to the International Olympic Committee’s new anti-demonstration rule

IOC addition to Rule 50 sparks a quick reply from the sporting world.

By: Catherine Paquette, SPC Staff Writer

Montreal, Canada (January 10, 2020) – “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”, this is the new guidelines issued by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this past week which has caused much controversy.  This edict, found in Rule 50 of the new Olympic Charter, is meant to keep the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games site neutral and apolitical.  

Under this new rule, political gestures such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ arm raise, Feyisa Lilesa’s crossed arms or Colin Kaepernick’s taking of a knee would be in direct violation of the Olympic Charter.  Other prohibited demonstrations include the displaying of political messaging and refusal to follow Olympic ceremonies protocol.  Athletes who break Rule 50 protest rules will face disciplinary action by the IOC.

An athlete who quickly condemned the new regulation is Ballon D’Or winner Megan Rapinoe.  In a social media post Rapinoe stated:

“So much being done about the protests.  So little being done about what we are protesting about.  We will not be silenced.”

Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe, a self-described “walking protest”, has long been an advocate of equality, LGBTQ rights, pay equity and the black rights movement.  Her 2016 decision to take a knee during the national anthem, in solidarity with Kaepernick, was not without controversy.   She has also been open about her political beliefs and her discontent with the current American president and his administration.  Under the new regulations, any demonstration or expression of the above-described beliefs and causes could be immediately punishable by the IOC.  

Others were also quick to reply.  Global Athlete, an international athlete-let movement, objected to the apolitical aim behind the restriction of protest by athletes. They argue that the IOC is inherently a political organization.  As Global Athlete states:

“The Olympic Movement has already politicized sport. …the IOC promoted a unified South and North Korean team; … has an observation seat around the United Nations Assembly; the IOC President regularly meets with Heads of States…”. 

The athlete-driven movement also highlighted the fact that freedom of speech is a fundamental human right under Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rightly so, anti-demonstration Rule 50 directly contravenes this fundamental right.  Moreover, the rule also contravenes the IOC’s statement made in the preamble of Rule 50 itself.   Rule 50 opens with the IOC claiming that the organization is “fully supportive of freedom of expression”.  However, it then goes on to restrict that very expression to the tune of possible sanctions.

Rule 50 will only apply to the Olympic site and parent venues and areas.  It will not prohibit athletes from expressing such views during outside press conferences and interviews.  Whether it will be successful in its apolitical goal will be seen.  Whether more athletes or organizations will come out against it may also force change.  

The Tokyo Summer Olympics will be held from the 24th of July to the 9th of August, 2020.  The US Women’s National Team, which Rapinoe is a part of, must qualify for the games in the upcoming 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.  The tournament takes place from the 28th of January to the 9th of February 2020.

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