IPC Athletes’ Council to Survey Community on Athlete Protests

IPC - Photo Courtesy: By Scazon via Wikimedia Commons

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletes’ Council announced Tuesday that it will “launch a consultation exercise” within its community over athlete protests. The effort is aimed at getting feedback from members, “on ways athletes could express their views on key subjects at the Paralympic Games, while respecting the Paralympic Movement’s values and principles.”

The IPC and IPC Athletes’ Council will host focus groups globally with Paralympic athletes to achieve two purposes: “to provide the athlete community with a better understanding about the current rules” around athlete protests and why those rules exist; and “to gather first-hand the ideas and thoughts of Para athletes and how they could make their voices heard at the Paralympic Games.”

This effort was created after dialogue between the IPC and IPC Athletes’ Council. At the IPC Governing Board meeting last week, the consultation received full support.

“What is important right now is to use the time we have available to listen to Para athletes about their experiences and how it has affected their lives,” said Chelsey Gotell, the chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, in a statement. “We want to better understand the subjects Para athletes feel passionately about and gather views on how they believe they could best be communicated at the Games. At the same time, we must also provide Para athletes with a greater understanding of the current rules so they can give well-rounded and better informed feedback during the consultation.

“By supporting this consultation exercise, the IPC is showing a willingness and openness to listen first-hand to Para athletes on a subject that is a critical and complex topic.”

Athlete protests at the Paralympics are governed by Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, conspicuously unnamed in the IPC Athletes’ Council release. That rule, ostensibly in the name of shielding athletics from politicization, effectively muffles athlete speech. Rule 50 bars political messaging (signs, armbands, etc.), gestures (including kneeling) and refusal to follow protocol at Olympic venues such as on the field of competition, in the Olympic Village and at Olympic ceremonies (opening, closing, medal, etc.). Athletes in violation of Rule 50 face harsh rebuke, including, as Tommie Smith and John Carlos found at the 1968 Olympics, expulsion from the Olympic Village.

As athletes have increasingly spoken out about racial inequity and systemic racism – accelerated by the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in the United States in late May – Rule 50 has been increasingly under siege. Many athletes see the rule as infringing on their right to free speech at a time when they are representing their country, which in cases like the United States, is founded upon such freedoms. Many athletes have called on the International Olympic Committee to review Rule 50’s terms.

IPC president Andrew Parsons lent his support to the fact-finding mission of the IPC Athletes’ Council.

“As an athlete-centered organization that has inclusion at its core, we want to use this athlete consultation exercise to listen and learn,” Parsons said. “Once we have gathered all views, we can then shape what changes may be needed for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The IPC is fully committed to ending unlawful discrimination for every single person on this planet. As an organization, we work hard particularly to end the stigma that is attached to disability while also pursuing greater equality in areas such as race, gender and sexuality.”

The IPC Athletes’ Council says it will publish “discussions and key points” on its various digital media channels.

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