TOKYO – Tommy Smith, John Carlos and Gwen Berry are among more than 150 athletes, teachers and activists who signed a letter on Thursday urging the IOC not to penalize participants who perform at the Tokyo Games Was.
The five-page letter, published on the eve of the Olympics, asked the IOC not to sanction athletes kneeling or raising fists, as Smith and Carlos did at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
American hammer thrower Berry, who gave much momentum to the debate, has said that she intends to use her Olympic platform to point out racial inequality in the United States. When she was on the medal stand at the Olympic Trials last month, she turned away from the flag when the national anthem was played.
The IOC has changed its Rule 50 which bans political demonstrations at the Games, and has said it will allow them on the field, as long as they arrive before the action begins. Players from five Olympic soccer teams took a knee on the Wednesday before their game on the opening night for that game.
But the IOC did not lift the ban on medal-stand demonstrations, and some decisions about punishment are left to individual sports federations.
The letter, posted on the Muhammad Ali Center’s website, said, “We do not believe that the changes made reflect freedom of expression as a fundamental human right nor a commitment to racial and social justice in global sports. ” Ali’s daughter, four-time boxing world champion Laliya Ali.
The letter disputed the IOC’s long-standing position that the Olympics should remain neutral, arguing that “neutrality is never neutral.”
“To be neutral means to remain silent, and to remain silent means to support ongoing injustice,” it said.
The letter also took issue with an athlete survey conducted by the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which found widespread support for Rule 50. The commission cited the survey largely as a central reason for recommending upholding the rule.
“The report does not provide any information regarding racial/ethnic demographics or the research tools used and the steps taken to strengthen the validity and reliability of the data,” the letter said.
The largest cross-section of the 3,547 athletes surveyed came from China (14%), where those who answered the questions staged a protest. American athletes were the second largest team to respond (7%), followed by athletes from Japan (6%).
Among others who signed the letter was fencer Race Imboden, who, along with Berry, was placed on probation by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for performing on the medal stand at the 2019 Pan American Games. The USOPC later changed its stance and would not sanction athletes protesting in Tokyo.
Also signatory was Harry Edwards, a longtime activist who organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to gestures in Mexico City by Smith and Carlos.