Guest Commentary: Don’t Mix My Olympics With Politics

tokyo 2021 - Olympic Games - Olympics

Guest Commentary: Don’t Mix My Olympics With Politics

Swimming World is running this guest editorial by Charles Hartley in regard to IOC Rule-50, which deals with athlete protests during the Olympic Games. An editorial from the other view on this situation will be posted in the days to come. 

By Charles Hartley, Guest Submission

Sorry Adam Peaty, you’re wrong in speaking out in favor recently of athletes’ rights to protest on the Olympic podiums in Tokyo this summer.


Photo Courtesy: Mine Kasapoglu / ISL

As you may be aware, the International Olympic Committee has ruled that Olympic swimmers will not be allowed to protest or demonstrate in any Olympic sites or venues, including on the medal podiums.

I understand we’ve living in times of more leniency toward athletes speaking their minds on matters beyond sports, but it’s not my preference to mix protests and sporting events. And here are three reasons why.

First, I don’t think the vast majority of people watching Olympic swimming will be tuning into to find out what political causes or other beliefs swimmers have outside of swimming. Sure, they’re all entitled to their opinions, but it won’t make people like or respect the swimmers more by taking advantage of their platforms to speak out. The sport of swimming won’t become more popular if there are protests – probably less so.

It’s just the wrong place. People want to escape from politics when they watch swimming. They enjoy taking their minds off of the more contentious social issues of our times. They want to watch swimming for the purity of the sport, the beauty of the actual swimming, the colors and pageantry and excitement of competition. They’re not tuning in to get educated on what’s wrong with society and what needs to be fixed. They can watch those debates on plenty of other TV channels.

Second, if these protests are allowed, things could get out of hand. After the first person says something or gestures in some way to express a political belief or complain about a social issue, then the next swimmer/athlete will feel free to do the same. Then we’ll lose sight of the purpose of the event, which is to compete on a global stage in swimming and other sports, not compete to get a message across that’s beyond sports. The protests could escalate and become one big fiasco. One protest after another, and then another, and we’ll end up making the protests the story and not the swimming.

Third, it sets a bad precedent. When Americans go to work each day, they’re expected to do their jobs. We’re not allowed to protest on issues unrelated to our jobs at hand. It’s a distraction and is often the path to unemployment if we protest something at work.

Why? Because it’s bound to cause people to get upset within the company who don’t agree with whatever point of view the protester expresses. Businesses can’t have this acrimony that’s unrelated to their purpose – serving customers and generating wealth. It’s not sustainable because it doesn’t focus on the goal of the enterprise.

In a similar way, the swimmers are part of a larger community headed by the IOC that has as a mission to promote international sports competition. It’s not their purpose to provide a platform for political activism, just like it’s not the point of a company to give free air time to employees to speak their minds.

Which is why it’s perfectly reasonable for the IOC to rule against these protests by athletes at the Games. It’s like companies behave every day. They don’t let workers come in and protest because they’ve got a job to do and need to be disciplined and focused. It’s not the right place for actions external to doing their work.

So Adam, in your support of athletes who want to protest during the Olympics, you might want to rethink your position. Do you want the Olympics to become more about which swimmer made the most politically incendiary remark? Do you want the swimmers to get into a bickering contest and game to see which one will be the most vitriolic in his or her protest while on the medal podium? Do you want people to remember the Olympics for all the political rancor or the great swimming?

I think most people in the world just want to you and others swim really fast and inspire us with your grit in the water. They want to be jazzed about you winning another gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke. And they’d rather the swimmers, and all other Olympic athletes, leave the protests aside for a more appropriate time and place.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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1 year ago

I don’t believe in silencing anyone’s freedom of speech, and I think athletes expressing their beliefs will only enhance, enrich, and enliven the Olympics and help to make them a more vital and relevant event by allowing these amazing athletes, who have come from all walks of life, to express themselves and enlighten and educate the rest of the world. Diversity of ideas is a powerful and positive force.

1 year ago
Reply to  SETH

B-. Not bad for 8th grade but high school will
require better writing. Hang in there Charles!

1 year ago

When you have worked and trained for 4 years making huge sacrifices so you can peak at the Olympic final, then you find yourself stood next to a CHEAT with the gold medal around their neck you have every right to protest.

Big G
1 year ago

Really poor to think you can compare an international athletes to an office worker. Elite athletes can lead with their examples, take racism and football for instance, each and every game there is a formal protest that’s actively encouraged. A very narrow minded article.

1 year ago

Excellent commentary, Charles. You are exactly right – the Olympics are about the athletes competing to be the fastest and strongest in their sports, not the loudest in expressing political and social opinions. Nobody’s ‘freedom of speech’ is being silenced – every swimmer, runner, basketball player, etc., is free to express opinions about anything and everything on their own social media sites. But they need to respect the Olympics for what it is – the world’s greatest gathering for sports competition, not a stage for political/social debates and vitriol.

1 year ago

When I was a competitive athlete I also thought that sport and politics shouldn’t be mixed. However, those who govern sport do it routinely without question. And at the highest levels in many sports, athletes have to compete wearing their nation’s flag and colors – an entirely political way to structure sport.

Have a look at Dave Zirin’s Not Just a Game; it’s more palatable than a lot of the academic research out there, but does a great job of summarizing how political most sport is.

1 year ago

I agree but why then order American athletes to stand there with their hand on their heart when the anthem is played. If that’s not a political gesture nothing is.

1 year ago

The IOC’s position is somewhat hypocritical given it is a inherently political organisation. Free nations will not and should not expect their athletes to abide by this absurd rule.

10 months ago

I will not watch the 2021 Olympics if it gets political! I Have watch every olympics ever since I was old enough to understand the Olympics. Olympics are for world competition and to enjoy. Don’t ruin the Olympics by allowing politics to creep in!