Olympic Athletes Survey Aimed At Answering IOC On What Forms Of Protest The Games Should Allow

Podium Protest in support of clean sport - Photo Courtesy: PBK/CL

Olympic athletes, active and retired, have been asked by the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission to provide feedback on Olympic Charter Rule 50 with a view to assessing what types of protests might be allowed at the Games, where and when.

Australian Olympians and those aspiring to join the club with Tokyo 202o selection in 2021 have been asked to fill out a survey on the issues by July 6.

The responses will help to find “the most effective and respectful solutions” to suggest to Thomas Bach, the President of the IOC, in response to his appeal to all Olympic athletes around the world to submit their ideas on how athletes can express themselves during the period of the Games.

The one-year delay to the Olympic Games, Tokyo now scheduled to host in July and August next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has provided a window of opportunity for athlete to come to a reasonable view on Rule 50 at a time when many wish to express their views peacefully on issues that impact Olympic athletes.

Those include Fair Play, doping, discrimination, including the issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, and governance of sports that have often been quick to punish athletes if rules are perceived to have been broken but fail to hand over to independent integrity investigators the cases of officials facing criminal investigation (and even some already charged and convicted but able to keep honours for ‘service’ to the sports they operated in).

Rule 50 provides a framework “to ensure that sport and the Olympic Games remains neutral and is kept separate from political, religious or any other type of interference” says the IOC. In summary, the two parts of Rule 50 are as follows:

  • Part 1 prohibits any advertising and publicity in and above Olympic sites. This includes advertising (for example, branding and slogans) on uniforms and equipment worn/used during the Games.
  • Part 2 states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

There are good reasons for such rules to exist (Berlin 1936 and much else) but the judgment of what is reasonable and peaceful protest as opposed to “propaganda”, what constitutes ‘advertising’ on kit and related matters rests in the hands of sports politicians, many heavily connected to general, national and international politics through their Olympic associations.

Amid calls for better definition of the rule, calls for the rule to be abolished and calls for the whole process to be handed over to independent arbitration, Olympic athletes are being asked for their views on what form of protest should be allowed during the Games and where and in what circumstances that might be allowed at future Games.

Australian Olympic Athletes Have July 6 Deadline By Which To Return Rule 50 Survey


Australian Olympic Committee – Photo Courtesy: the AOC

The IOC AC’s request, sent worldwide, is being handled in different ways at national level. The Australian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, chaired by Steve Hooker and including swim sprint ace Cate Campbell, has developed a survey for Olympic athletes, active and retired, and those aspiring to selection for Tokyo 2020 in 2021. In a note to the athletes, the AOC states:

“The survey is designed to gather your collective thoughts around the current restrictions on protest – considering the Olympic stance on anti-discrimination and athlete rights to ‘freedom of expression’, as outlined in the Athletes Rights and Responsibilities Declaration

“We understand that these elements can sometimes seem in conflict and even create confusion. For instance, how can the IOC have a ban on protests, yet now celebrate the anti-racism stand taken by Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Australian Peter Norman in 1968?”

“Some examples of the topics we are trying to address include:

  • Start line Protest; Is it fair to your fellow competitors and athletes to protest on the start line of your event or the podium?
  • Olympic Village platforms: Should there be designated spaces or events to provide the platforms for expression?

“It’s complicated we know, but we want to pass on your ideas and provide clarity for everyone, on how and where you as Olympians can use the Olympic platform to express yourselves and support the causes closest to your heart.”

The athletes now have a week in which to complete a survey that includes the following questions (basic questions of gender and optional questions of age, gender, ethnicity, type of sport, Olympic era competed in and so forth, omitted for this report):

Should the Olympics be a stage for athletes to express their views on politics, religion, sexuality, racism, gender and other forms of discrimination or other causes?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Under some circumstances

Under what circumstances do you think it is appropriate for the Olympics to be a stage for athletes to express their views?

How do you normally express your views on politics, religion, sexuality, racism, the environment, gender, forms of discrimination or other causes?

  • I don’t express my private views publicly
  • Appearance (hair, nails, clothing, tatoos, accessories)
  • Posting on social media
  • Sharing on broadcast media
  • Talking with friends, family and peers
  • Protests and rallies
  • Donations
  • Other (please specify)

During an Olympic Games would you like the opportunity to express your views in the the ways you’ve outlined above?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Under certain circumstance

Under what circumstances would you like the opportunity to express your views?

During an Olympic Games would you like to express yourself in any other way (eg: a moment of solidarity during the opening ceremony, a place in the Olympic Village where you can record, post, share views on causes you are passionate)

  • Yes
  • No

In what way would you like to express yourself at the Olympic Games?

Do you have further comments regarding how you would like to express yourself?

Is there anywhere protests of any nature should be discouraged?

A protest on the field of play would detract from the performance or experience of athletes

  • Strongly Agree
  • Agree
  • Unsure
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

Discrimination exists on the field of play in my sport

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Unsure
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

What type of discrimination do you believe exists in your sport?

I understand my rights and responsibilities in relation to Rule 50.2 … ?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Somewhat

Are there any areas you would like clarification on?

Are you aware of the consequences of a breach of Rule 50.2?

  • Yes
  • No

Please outline areas you would like clarification on regarding consequences of breaches of Rule 50.2

Knowing that there are consequences, would you still consider protesting on the field of play or at a podium ceremony at an Olympic Games?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe

Do you have any further comments regarding consequences to protesting?

Are there any other comments you would like to make about Rule 50.2 or ways you can express yourself during a Games that relate specifically to Australia or your participation on an Australian Olympic Team?