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Saturday, September 25, 2021

How missing highlights highlighted athlete activism at Olympics

IOC’s U-turn one day after excluding images of athletes’ demonstrations from highlight packages.

Written by Gaurav Bhatt |
Updated: July 23, 2021 4:45:54 pm
England and Austria players take a knee before a friendly. (Twitter/England)

The Rule

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.


After it came under severe scrutiny during last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, two reviews of Rule 50 were recommended by International Olympic Committee’s own Athletes Commission. Earlier this month, the IOC decided to allow Olympic athletes to make gestures of protest in their field of play. According to the change, athletes were allowed to take a knee or raise a fist in pre-game introductions but would still be disciplined if they do so on the medal ceremony podiums.

Also Read | Tokyo 2020: Protest Games or Woke Olympics?

Images excluded

Under the fresh rules, on Wednesday, players from five women’s football teams — Britain, Chile, US, Sweden and New Zealand — kneeled in support of racial justice. On the same day, the Australian team posed with a flag of the country’s indigenous people.

However, the pictures of athlete activism were excluded from the official Tokyo Olympics highlights package provided to media organisations. The official Olympic social media channels too did not include any such images.

Another change

After the exclusion was pointed out, the IOC on Thursday announced an apparent change of policy.

“The IOC is covering the Games on its owned and operated platforms and such moments will be included as well,” the Olympic body said, adding that the television viewers could have seen the footage and networks that have official broadcast rights “can use it as they deem fit.”

Letter from athletes

Also on Thursday, more than 150 athletes, educators and activists — including Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos who raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Games — signed a letter urging the IOC to not punish participants who demonstrate.

“We do not believe the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right nor to racial and social justice in global sports,” said the five-page letter.

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