Swim Poll of the Week: 56% Believe Athletes Shouldn’t Protest on Podium; In Favor of IOC Rule 50


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This is the Swim Poll of the Week for Thursday May 13, 2021, sponsored by Strechcordz Swim Training Products. In our last poll, we wanted to know: Do You Think IOC Rule 50 Should Be Abolished and Athletes Should Be Able to Protest Key Issues They Deem Important?

The project that Pierre de Coubertin undertook more than a century ago was many things. It was never, however, apolitical.

The baron grew up in a 19th century France humiliated by defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. He saw the ravages that omnipresent conflict between European states inflicted on the continent, a situation that persisted until World War II. His refuge was an idyllic history of the ancient Greeks. And in meshing the utopia of the past with the distinctly challenging present, he saw sport as a remedy.

“Wars break out because nations misunderstand each other,” Coubertin famously wrote. “We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived. To attain this end, what better means than to bring the youth of all countries periodically together for amicable trials of muscular strength and agility?”

What Coubertin sketched out, what he brought to life for the first time in 1896 and every four years thereafter (world wars and pandemics, notwithstanding) has for the most part lived out that ideal. But what Coubertin created wasn’t a vacuum of politics but rather a grafting of politics onto the sporting stage, one where the stakes were generally less than life and death.

More than 80 years after his death, the attempt to separate politics from the Olympics isn’t just foolhardy. It runs counter to the values Coubertin built his Olympic movement around.

The current efforts center on objections to Rule 50 of the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Charter. That rule restricts “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda … permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Those that passionately defend Rule 50 do so in defense of the purity of sport, as an arena in which real life and its myriad complications end to allow unfettered enjoyment of a sporting event.

But that arrangement does a disservice to the Olympics’ ethos. Coubertin didn’t just create an international athletic competition. He didn’t just presage 20th century trends of internationalism, in culture and commerce. He created a philosophical underpinning for the Games, the idea of Olympism. From the Olympic Charter, describing the “fundamental principles of Olympism”:

“Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.”

To tell an athlete to stow something so fundamental to them, like a devotion to human rights, to compete runs counter to this philosophy. It is antithetical to the original concept of the Olympics as not just a sporting but a multicultural festival that included, from 1912 to 1948, architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. (Fun fact: Hungary’s Alfred Hajos, who won gold medals in the 1896 Olympics in the 100-meter and 1,200-meter freestyle, won a silver medal in the 1924 Olympics in the architecture art competition. He also competed in 1928 and 1932).

The Olympic charter holds that, “The practice of sport is a human right.” Many of those seeking to express themselves on Olympic podiums are fighting for ideals that are also human rights, whether that’s Naomi Osaka displaying the names of Black people killed by police on her apparel to underscore their right to live in the face of state violence or athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest systemic inequality that denies millions of people the free exercise of their rights. In the most famous Olympic protest, by Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the media attention was focused on the Black power salute of their gloved fists. Overlooked was the symbology of beads worn to protest the lack of justice for victims of lynching in the United States or the men standing barefoot to protest a system that strands millions in unrelenting poverty. Those rights, to life and a chance at prosperity, are ones that should be inarguable within the framework of Olympism.

A group of American athletes, led by 1968 Olympian John Carlos, last year published a letter to the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee urging the abolition of IOC Charter Rule 50.

The letter was sent on behalf of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Advisory Council (USOPC AAC). It urges the IOC to scrap Rule 50, which bars political protests by athletes at official Olympic ceremonies, and replace it with new guidelines developed “in direct collaboration with independent, worldwide athlete representatives that protects athletes’ freedom of expression.”

From the letter:

We are now at a crossroads. The IOC and IPC cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism. Instead, sports administrators must begin the responsible task of transparent collaboration with athletes and athlete groups (including independent athlete groups) to reshape the future of athlete expression at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Let us work together to create a new structure that celebrates athletes who speak about issues in alignment with human rights and the 7 principles of Olympism.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter purports to “protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games” by forbidding protests and demonstrations on the field of competition, the Olympic Village and all official ceremonies (opening, closing, medal, etc.) It enumerates such banned protests and including:

  • 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


Do You Think IOC Rule 50 Should Be Abolished and Athletes Should Be Able to Protest Key Issues They Deem Important?

Yes, allow them a voice – 43%

No, keep it off the podium – 56%




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  1. avatar
    A Preston

    No. Sports shouldn’t become political. This is a time to celebrate a person or team’s physical or mental abilities and not to their political or religious beliefs.

  2. avatar

    The Olympics has the power to unify the nations of the world at a time when social and political issues are driving a huge wedge between people. Politics are everywhere already, certainly we deserve a breather at the Olympics. Take note from the NFL and NBA who got overly preachy and see what that did to their veiwership.