Australian Athletes Speak Out on Freedom of Speech at Olympic Games

Mack Horton AUS protests Sun Yang's CHN Gold Medal, 400m Freestyle Final, 18th FINA World Swimming Championships 2019, 21 July 2019, Gwanju South Korea. Pic by Delly Carr/Swimming Australia. Pic credit requested and mandatory for free editorial usage. THANK YOU.
Mack Horton protests Sun Yang's Gold Medal in the 400m free at 2019 World titles in Gwanju, South Korea - Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Australian Athletes Speak Out on Freedom of Speech at Olympic Games

Australia’s athletes have spoken and believe “in some circumstances” they in fact should be allowed to express themselves at an Olympic Games, but also stressing that it should not impact on other athletes’ performances or overall experience at the Games.

Rio Olympic champion Mack Horton’s decision not to share the medal podium with now banned Chinese Olympic champion Sun Yang at last year’s Fina World Championships in Gwangju prompted a massive reaction.

Particularly from FINA, the Australian Olympic Committee, the IOC and importantly the athletes themselves.

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VOICE OF REASON: Australia’s Cate Campbell is a member of the AOC Athletes Commission. Photo Courtesy: Maria Dobysheva

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) Athletes’ Commission, which includes Australia’s triple Olympian and two-time relay gold medallist Cate Campbell has today released findings of a survey they conducted on the views of Australian athletes about self-expression at the Olympic Games.

In the release issued earlier today from the AOC, it revealed that the survey of Olympians and Tokyo 2020 aspirants found the majority of athletes believe that under some circumstances, athletes should be able to express themselves at the Olympic Games.

The release went on to say….“However, most of those supporting freedom of expression were also concerned that any expression should not impact on other athletes’ performances or overall experience at the Games.

“More than 80 percent of all respondents said a protest on the field of play would detract from the performance or experience of athletes.

“The survey indicated that some 39.91 percent believe in self-expression depending on the circumstances, 19.16 percent believe in self-expression in any circumstances while 40.93 percent felt the Games was not a place for athletes to publicly express views.”

steve hooker

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD: Beijing Olympic pole vault gold medalist Steve Hooker. Photo Courtesy: AAP.

AOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Steve Hooker OAM said the survey was prompted by an IOC Athletes’ Commission initiative to explore the different ways of how athletes can express their support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

“Non-discrimination is one of the pillars of the Olympic movement. We were interested in the balance between our athletes’ views on freedom of expression and their obligations to respect the rights of others,” said Hooker.

“That obligation is captured in the Athletes’ Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities and is reflected in the IOC’s Rule 50.2 which specifically states –‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’

Mr Hooker said there was a clear trend that showed a higher proportion of present-day athletes believe that the Games are a platform for self-expression when compared with Olympians from earlier eras.

“While just over 40 percent of athletes more broadly felt there was no place for self-expression or protest at the Games, if you look at athletes from the 2010’s, that figure of those against falls away to just 19 percent.

“Nevertheless, the majority of that younger group felt opportunities in social media and media conferences were preferable to protest than on the field of play or Olympic podium.

“We have made a number of recommendations around supporting those alternative options.

“There is a minority who have expressed strong views about the right to protest on the field of play or podium, so we have also recommended consideration be given about how an athlete can receive guidance, counselling and support if they do breach the IOC’s Rule 50.2.”

O the home front, the AOC Athletes’ Commission Chair also outlined work the Commission is doing in conjunction with the AOC Indigenous Advisory Committee to boost the awareness of Olympians on Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures and experiences in Australia.

“Together we will conduct a forum during NAIDOC Week this year for Olympians as an important first step in educating Olympians on Australia’s Indigenous history.

“There have been 52 proud Indigenous Olympians in Australia’s long history at the Olympic Games and we will be drawing on their stories and experiences as we take this project forward,” Mr Hooker concluded.

The AOC Athletes’ Commission Survey can be found here.

The Survey’s Executive Summary can be found here.

The AOC Athletes’ Commission Letter to the IOC Athletes’ Commission can be found here.




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