Taking a knee set to be outlawed at Tokyo Olympics

A total of 3,547 athletes representing 185 countries and 41 sports responded to the survey.

By Press Association Published: 21 April 2021 - 10.05pm

Taking a knee is set to be outlawed at the Tokyo Olympics after the International Olympic Committee approved a recommendation from its own Athletes’ Commission to curtail the right to protest on the field of play.

Two thirds of respondents to a survey relating to a potential change of the IOC’s Rule 50, which bans demonstrations of “political, religious or racial propaganda” on Olympic sites, said they did not feel such protests were appropriate.

Olympics Overview File Photo
IOC president Thomas Bach has accepted a recommendation to curtail protest rights on the field of play (Mike Egerton/PA)

Athletes’ Commission chair Kirsty Coventry said: “A very clear majority of athletes said that it’s not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play, at the official ceremonies, or on the podium, and so our recommendation is to preserve (those places) from any kind of protests and demonstrations or acts perceived as such.”

A total of 3,547 athletes representing 185 countries and 41 sports responded to the survey, as part of a 10-month consultation process initiated by the widespread social and racial justice movements in the United States.

“A very clear majority of athletes said that it's not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play, at the official ceremonies, or on the podium, and so our recommendation is to preserve (those places) from any kind of protests and demonstrations or acts perceived as such.”
- IOC Athletes' Commission chair Kirsty Coventry

Coventry said the recommendation – which Bach confirmed had been “unanimously approved” – would now be passed to the IOC’s legal affairs commission in order to consider the range of potential sanctions against those who fail to adhere to the rule.

Coventry added: “We are asking the legal affairs commission to come up with a proportionate range of different sanctions, so that everyone knows going into a Games what they can and can’t do. It’s up to (them) to give the Athletes’ Commission guidance on proportionality.”

A British Olympic Association spokesperson said it would work closely with Team GB athletes to establish appropriate means to express themselves in ways which would not be in contravention of the reinforced guidelines.

The spokesperson said: “We are appreciative of the broad, global consultation that took place through the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission and that British athletes were given the opportunity to engage through both the consultation and the IOC survey.

“We understand that the survey showed overwhelming global support for maintaining the existing rule about political protests whilst providing increased clarity for athletes and fostering new opportunities for expression elsewhere.

“As we have recently reiterated, we also strongly believe that sport and politics should continue to remain separate. However, we also support the desire of athletes to be advocates for causes about which they feel strongly. We will work with our own Athletes’ Commission to find a way to make this work for all parties.”

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