The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo began its rollout in the midst of a pandemic which has intersected with a racial reckoning like no other.
Last summer, several corporations submitted their support around the Black Lives Matter movement sparked out of the routine and heartbreaking state sanctioned deaths of Black people.
Despite that, the International Olympic Committee reissued their stance on barring political speech or silent acts of protest at the games, with a specific reference to the phrase “Black Lives Matter. Participating athletes will be banned from wearing apparel or any forms of merchandise with the movement phrase, along with taking a knee or raising a fist.
Instead the committee will allow words like “peace,” “respect,” “solidarity,” “inclusion” and “equality” to be worn on athlete apparel.
Incredulously the IOC commissioned research around the Rule 50 showed that 70% of athletes polled do not think it’s appropriate to demonstrate during competition, and 67% said it’s not appropriate either on the medal stand.
“The aim of Rule 50 is to ensure that each and every athlete can experience the Olympic Games without any divisive disruption,” the IOC’s website says.
Color of Change, one of the leading racial justice organizations, voiced their condemnation around the IOC’s decision.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) just implemented an oppressive policy to silence the free expression of Black athletes during the Summer Olympics,” the group said in a statement. “The policy bans athletes from kneeling, raising their fists, or wearing signs or symbolic armbands. At a time of heightened political awareness and the threat of a world war, athletes who take a stand for justice are being told to “shut up and play.”
“There is no real peace in the absence of justice and there is no victory when individuals are silenced.”
The IOC has not clearly outlined if and how athletes will be disciplined if they go against the rule. In response, several legal support groups like The World Players Association have promised help for athletes who decide to.
There is a rich legacy of Black athletes using the Olympic stage as a means of protest to heighten awareness on what is going on domestically and globally. From Jessie Owens’ triumphant gold medal in Berlin, Germany, to 1968 Olympics where track athletes Tommie Smith, John Carlos raised their fists in solidarity with the Black Power movement.