Seoul, South Korea – Since the last Summer Olympics in 2016, a global Black Lives Matter protest movement has resurfaced. The “Me Too” movement started in support of women’s rights. And both could affect the Tokyo Games, which are expected to be a major platform for athlete activism.
Many high-profile athletes competing in the Games have been at the forefront of progressive causes in their own countries and may make political statements in Tokyo, despite the International Olympic Committee’s threat to punish those who speak out.
Jules Boykoff, former Olympic football player and author of four books on the Olympics, said, “The more vibrant social movements there are on the streets, the better the chances that we will see activism on the Olympic stage.” “I think we have a perfect storm, if you will, for an explosion of athlete activism.”
Political protest at the Games is technically banned by Olympic Charter Rule 50. Although the rule was loosened earlier this year to allow more athlete expression, it still forbids protest from the medal stand or the field of play.
Rule 50 was enacted following one of the most inspiring athlete protests in Olympic history after the 1968 Olympics. That’s when American stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to the sky at the medal stand in the Black Power Salute.
Smith and Carlos are now widely seen as symbols of their salute. Even the IOC website The men are praised as “legends”, calling their move “a gesture of true rebellion”.
“They wanted to make a statement, and they did it on the biggest stage,” says a video on the IOC’s official Olympic channel.
This is in contrast to IOC chief Thomas Bach’s recent remarks, who recently warned against divisive protests at the Tokyo Games.
“Stages and medal ceremonies are not made for political or other performances,” Bach told the Financial Times. “They are made to honor athletes and medalists for sporting achievement, not for their personal” [views]”
Boykoff said it was a clear case of the IOC that it wanted to do it both ways, because under current rules, the 1968 protest would be forbidden.
“These guidelines do not allow for there to be a new John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the Tokyo Olympics,” he said. “They may face punishment.”
The new relaxed Rule 50 is vague about punishment. It is not clear to what extent this will be implemented.
Separately, the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced late last year that it would no longer punish US athletes who stage peaceful protests, such as taking a knee or raising a fist.
Professional American athletes – most prominent basketball players but also others – have been involved in anti-racism protests and have worn Black Lives Matter gear before and during games.
American football star Megan Rapinoe has also been vocal for equal pay for women.
The British women’s football team has already announced that it will take a knee before their matches to protest racism and discrimination.
Conservatives in particular, including former US President Donald Trump, have often criticized active athletes, saying players should stick to the sport. But Trump has also embraced players who support him and who defend conservative ideals.
involved in politics
“Indeed, there has never been a separation between sport and politics,” said Heather Dichter, a professor of sports history at Britain’s De Montfort University.
This is especially the case with the Olympics, which are filled with the national flag, symbols and anthem, Dichter said.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world,” she said.
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But not every athlete will feel comfortable speaking up. Wealthy players who receive large salaries from their professional careers may be more likely to risk punishment by speaking their mind.
“If you’re an athlete of a lesser-known sport who can drop out of the team and end your career by standing up for politics and losing all your sponsorships, that’s the only thing you can do as an athlete.” You may be willing to speak less,” Boykoff said.
Since there is an abundance of professional athletes at the Games this year, that’s just one reason to expect protests.
“It really opens the door to the possibility that these athletes can speak up,” he said. “After all, the Olympics need these athletes, these athletes need the Olympics more.”
VOA’s Jesusman Oni contributed to this report.