Don’t Punish Swimmer Protests, Try Listening, Lord Coe Urges Fed Leaders

(L-R) Second placed Mack Horton of Australia keeps his distance to winner Yang Sun of China while they pose with their medals for photographers after competing in the men's 400m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 21 July 2019. Gabriele Detti of Italy finishes third.

2020s Vision – The Athlete Voice

Mack Horton, Duncan Scott, Adam Peaty, Katinka Hosszu, Cate Campbell, Tom Shields, Michael Andrew and all swimmers who have stood up for change in their sport in the past few years are on the right track.

That’s the view of … Lord Coe. Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics today likened the kind of podium protests that we witnessed from Horton and Scott at last year’s World Championships in Gwangju to Jesse Owen’s stance against Adolf Hitler and the Black Power salute in support of civil rights in America.

Both Horton, of Australia, and Scott, of Britain were admonished by FINA along with Sun Yang but then as Gwangju 2019 Worlds drew to a close, the FINA director Cornel Marculescu reserved specific criticism for Horton and Scott without mentioning the  Chinese target of their protest in his event-summary closing remarks.

Although Horton and Scott were hailed heroes by fellow international swimmers,  with the likes of Katie Ledecky and Katinka Hosszu backing their right to protest in the face of the “unacceptable”, they received official warnings from FINA.

After receiving their medals, Horton and Scott stood aside and refused to have podium and group shots taken with Sun after the 400m (Horton) and then 200m (Scott) finals on the grounds that they did not believe he had a right to race amongst them.

Sun – who tested positive for a banned substance in 2014 and was handed a suspension that he never actually served – raced in Gwangju four months after the World Anti-Doping Agency lodged a case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have a penalty imposed on the swimmer after an acrimonious out-of-competition testing mission to his home in September 2018. The hearing into the case was not heard until November, leaving Sun free to race on.

The International Olympic Committee has since cautioned other aggrieved athletes that they will be stripped of their medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this July and August if they demonstrate during medal ceremonies.

Coe was not advocating that athlete protest in that way when he spoke to reporter Julian Linden at the Australian Telegraph but did back the right of athletes to speak up:

“I came through a sport where in 1980 I protested against my own Government to get to Moscow. The history of my sport is the history of Jesse Owens and how better was anyone going to show the demonstrably risible Aryan views of Adolf Hitler.

“These are big iconic moments, the Black Power salutes of 1968 you can’t divorce that from societal change, the United States was going through some really challenging social disruptions in 1967-67.”

One of the greatest and most respected middle distance runners of all time, Coe won gold in the 1,500m at both the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. He has also campaigned against drugs in sport – and received flack for many of the stances he has taken and/or perceived not to have taken.

A lifetime of experience in the tank, the president of World Athletics has been unwavering in his insistence that Russia be banned from the Olympics until they own up to their state-run doping violations.

If athletes wanted to speak up, in the way Horton, Scott, Hosszu and Shields have, sporting leaders and governing bodies needed to listen and work with athletes rather than punish them. He told Linden: “I’m not somebody that instinctively wants to tell athletes how to think about their world.

“I think it’s important that the athletes are seen to be connected to the world they live in and I think the athletes will understand the proportionality here. I don’t want to lecture them on it. I think freedom of expression and freedom of thought is what I treasure about being a human being.

“If athletes feel that they are getting to a point where they have to make that kind gesture then maybe all sport needs to look at itself. Their athletes are not doing this because that is their natural disposition, they’re doing because there is an air of frustration.”

1 comment

  1. Eric Lahmy

    True but false. Jesse Owens never stood against Hitler. He had a lot of job standing against the AAU and the racist pigs of America…