Global Athlete Calls on IOC to ‘Immediately Abolish’ Olympic Ban on Kneeling

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Global Athlete on Sunday published a letter to the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee urging them to immediately repeat prohibitions on taking a knee in solidarity with the global anti-racism movement.

The international athlete-led movement is asking the IOC to repeal Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. The rule ostensibly maintains political neutrality of the Games, but in reality, Global Athlete says, it quashes any hint of dissent or political consciousness from being displayed.

From the letter:

Athletes have had to choose between competing in silence and standing up for what’s right for far too long. It is time for change. Every athlete must be empowered to use their platforms, gestures and voice. Silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport.

Global Athlete goes on to write that the rule puts athletes, “in a powerless position,” subject to rules it has no say in determining despite being an important stakeholder in how those rules are carried out. The letter calls Rule 50, “a clear breach of every athletes’ human rights.”

Rule 50 governs freedom of expression within the Olympic movement, billing itself as a “framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.” According to the rule, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” including the field of play, the Olympic village or official ceremonies (opening, closing, medal, etc.). Among the expressly forbidden protests are:

  • Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands
  • Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling
  • Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol

Kneeling in particular has become an important gesture of peaceful defiance, reignited in 2016 with then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. Others have joined that movement, including Olympic athlete and World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. women’s soccer team, and the gesture has been front and center in global demonstrations that started in the United States two weeks ago after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police.

Other sporting bodies have shown some flexibility on the matter. U.S. Soccer reversed course on a ruling that banned kneeling during the national anthem. After blowback, the NFL has also granted leniency for protests to occur. USA Swimming’s latest missive on racial issues last week didn’t include mention of protests, though it did commit to greater diversity and inclusion.

For all that athletes have sacrificed to reach the level of the Olympics, Global Athlete believes that they should not have to leave behind the right to their opinion in the process.

Athletes devote years of their lives to qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. If athletes want to speak up while respecting other rights and freedoms detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the IOC should embrace their diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated. Athletes are influencers, but they can only fight social injustice and assist in making the world a better place if their freedom of speech is protected, not punished. To threaten athletes with removal from the Olympic or Paralympic Games is another sign of the imbalance of power between sport leaders and their most valuable asset- the athletes. 


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Stacy Dobson
Stacy Dobson
4 years ago

Global Athlete, you are so wrong! Keep politics out of the Olympics. It goes against everything the Olympic spirit stands for. Kaepernick and Rapinoe are not and will never be role models and the death of George Floyd has nothing to do with the Olympic Games. Shame on you for belittling these athlete’s perseverance and dreams to be the best ATHLETE not political figure.

Craig Lord
4 years ago
Reply to  Stacy Dobson

Stacy, do you believe that those governing the Olympics should stick to their own charter, do you think they do that – and ought they not to face precisely the same penalties – exclusion – if they stray across the line? And who should judge if they have strayed? Themselves? How would you say granting Putin awards, having him and many other unsavoury folk at dinners and involved in funding and influencing and lobbying, fits into your notion of ‘keep politics out of the Olympics’? Kaepernick and Rapinoe, of course, have been and remain role models for vast numbers of your athletes, as the social media posts of those athletes and their supporters and fans show, quite clearly. In a perfect world, your view would doubtless gain traction and be widely supported. The reality on the ground for decades and decades and decades, from Swastika-soaked Berlin 1936 to the corruption cases and heavy links with international politics far remote from the word of sport, including using the Olympic domain as a fake arbitration court for world leaders, is somewhat different. Global Athlete and its partner organisations are backed by many many thousands of world-class athletes around the world: I’m almost certain they won’t be thinking GA’s stance as ‘belittling’ their perseverance and dreams in a big-business realm they see very little (if any in the bulk of cases) share of.

spencer pinter
spencer pinter
4 years ago
Reply to  Craig Lord

You are much better off if you just stick to SWIMMING. I would think that people generally come here to read about SWIMMING and not politics, which can be very divisive at times. Honestly, why even bother going there? What is your goal? Perhaps the Editor-in-Chief is trying signal his partisan stripes… One thing is certain… stick to SWIMMING and absolutely nobody gets offended.

Craig Lord
4 years ago
Reply to  spencer pinter

Spencer, I’m happy you have an opinion about issues that go beyond the blocks, black line and the swim. So do we – and we’ll be looking at news issues like this and many other subjects as and when they arise, as and when athletes raise them (which they have, many swimmers in the mix) and when we see fit. You assume several things, including the mind of the editor (I wouldn’t go there) and the mind of many readers (I wouldn’t go there either, mainly because you can’t possibly know why others come to read SW and what they read when they read). There are lots of things that happen in swimming, in the water and out of it that may well offend one person and delight another. And that’s fine. Look on it as a sign of maturity and choice, all a part of the freedoms we have a right to express, enjoy and embrace. The media, swimming media, too, does not and should not confine itself to ‘100m ‘fly in X’, nor, would I venture, are you qualified to draw on our behalf the editorial red lines where coverage starts and stops.

4 years ago

Those who say that this is sport and has nothing to do with politics, let’s speak about swimming bla bla… yeah, it’s really funny when OG are all about politics, aren’t countries politics themselves? OG are nowadays ruled by politics, by countries and companies, they do not want to get ther image hurt, they want all people to behave as dummies… do your thing and do not open your mouth… but, when it comes to select the city where hosting the games, then politics and all that stuff is ok.
But expressing yourself is not.. yeaah great…
so stacy and spencer, sports is much more about only sport… so if you stick to only swimming, let’s ban flags and national anthems… right?
I don’t think you will agree… so as long as a national anthem is played, is about politics, a country is about politics is about ideas sometimes you are against and sometimes you are in favor…
so, it really matters.

Craig Lord
4 years ago
Reply to  Charlie

Indeed, Charlie

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