International Olympic Committee bans political protests by athletes at 2020 Tokyo Summer Games

Getty Images

Almost 52 years after the International Olympic Committee pressured what was the U.S. Olympic Committee into expelling Tommie Smith and John Carlos for raising gloved fists during the national anthem at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games, the IOC reminded athletes that the organization's values will remain the same at the 2020 Tokyo Games: no protesting allowed.

In a three-page report released on Thursday, the IOC reiterated Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter which prohibits "demonstrations or political, religious or racial propaganda." The report also specified what kinds of protests weren't allowed including "gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling" and "displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands," as well as where these protests could not happen, such as the field of play, the Olympic Village, medal ceremonies and the opening and closing ceremonies.

"We needed clarity and they wanted clarity on the rules," said Kirsty Coventry, chair of the commission that oversaw the new three-page document, told the Associated Press. "The majority of athletes feel it is very important that we respect each other as athletes."

The punishment for an athlete that breaks these rules isn't clear as the document states "disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis." What is clear, however, is the message that the IOC wants to keep controversy as far away from the games as possible--something that hasn't been quite as easy to do in recent years. It's a message that falls exactly in line with what IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in his 2020 New Year's address.

"The Olympic Games are always a global platform for the athletes and their sporting performances," Bach wrote. "They are not, and must never be, a platform to advance political or any other potentially divisive ends. We stand firmly against the growing politicization of sport because only in this way can we accomplish our mission to unite the world in peaceful competition. As history has shown, such politicization of sport leads to no result and in the end, just deepens existing divisions."

These guidelines also come in the wake of recent protests at the Pan-American Games in August in Lima, Peru. During their respective medal ceremonies American thrower Gwen Berry's raised her fist and American fencer Race Imboden kneeled while the national anthem played. Both athletes were given 12-month probation from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Less than a month later, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame by that same organization.

The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Games is slated for July 24.

Our Latest Stories