IOC Survey Shows Support for Maintaining Rule 50 Against Athlete Protest

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A report published by the International Olympic Committee shows broad support for keeping Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter in place in the name of political neutrality.

While the survey and a qualitative consultation with athletes revealed a desire for greater athlete expression, the clear compromise was to have that occur anywhere but where Rule 50 governs, which is the Olympic ceremonies and fields of competition.

The report was the product of an 11-month process from the IOC, started in June 2020 and conducted with IOC Athletes Commission. It polled 3,547 athletes from 185 National Olympic Committees and 41 sports on a gender-equal basis. It was conducted in consultation with Continental Associations’ Athletes’ Commissions and the World Olympians Association.

The conclusion reached by the IOC is that the IOC is correct in maintaining Rule 50 to supply “a framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.” While the process yielded a number of recommendations on increasing athlete expression, it did so within the framework of Rule 50, which many Americans in particular have been vocal in wanting to see abolished or substantially reformed.

“The goal of this wide outreach was to engage with athletes and hear their thoughts on existing and new opportunities to express their views at the Olympic Games as well as outside Games time,” IOC Athletes Commission chairperson and swimming gold medalist Kristy Coventry said. “We want to amplify the voices of athletes, and find more ways to support the values of the Olympic Games and what sport stands for. This consultation was a very important process for us and is part of the ongoing dialogue with the athlete community. We are delighted that the IOC EB fully supported our proposals.”

The exact bounds of “Games time” is the contention, and Rule 50 seems to sketch the bounds of it. In preserving its ceremonies as sacrosanct, the IOC appears to be allowing greater latitude to athletes in peripheral portions of the Games. From the report:

Moreover, a clear majority of athletes believe that it is not appropriate for athletes to demonstrate or express their views in these three players (67% think that “the Podium” is “not appropriate,” 70% for each of the “field of play” and “during the Opening Ceremony”). (emphasis in original)

The IOC Athlete Commission put forth six recommendations, backing an increase in athletes’ expression at:

  • The opening and closing ceremonies
  • In Olympic village branding
  • Via the Olympic Truce Mural
  • Through athlete apparel
  • Though social media campaigns
  • Through digital messaging (i.e. social media and media appearances)
  • Outside the Games

Those changes get to the heart of what the IOC report found, which supports a position the IOC already held: to “preserve the podium, field of play and official ceremonies.”

The athletes also want clarity on sanctions for violations of Rule 50 and more transparency the adjudication structure. The suggestion has also been put forth to separate Rule 50 into two rules.

The full report is available here.

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