The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has doubled down on its decision to ban any political, ideological, or social protest at the upcoming Tokyo Games. So, athletes and spectators are banned from raising a fist, taking a knee, or wearing Black Lives Matter (BLM) apparel in the Olympics. Athletes risk facing punishments if they do so.

English footballers take the knee before a World Cup qualifier match against San Marino
English footballers take the knee in support of Black Lives Matter before last month’s World Cup qualifier with San Marino at Wembley. (Evening Standard via Getty Images)

Athletes in Many Countries Don BLM Apparel in Protest

In July 2013, the BLM movement began using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and #BLM on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman had been charged in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier in February 2012.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a decentralized political and social movement protesting against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people. Sadly many of the movement’s protests turn violent due to outside influences.

Athletes in many countries have been donning BLM T-shirts, armbands, and other pieces of clothing before, during, or after matches and games.

In America, athletes have been taking a knee during the national anthem to protest against police brutality. However, anything of that sort will not be allowed at the Olympics, and athletes have been warned against any protest.

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U.S. Women’s Soccer Team member Megan Rapinoe kneels in silent protest (YouTube screen capture)

Slogans like “peace,” “respect,” “solidarity,” “inclusion,” and “equality” will be allowed at the 2021 Games, however.

BLM generally engages in direct movements that make people so uncomfortable that they must address the issue. BLM has been known to build power through protests and rallies. It has also staged die-ins, for example during the 2015 Twin Cities Marathon.

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It isn’t clear what punishment will be given out for offenders. However, athletes, coaches, and staff can face punishment from three different areas: the IOC, the governing body of their specific sport, and their home country’s Olympic committee.

The move to ban BLM-related apparel upholds the Olympics’ Rule 50, which addresses the “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” on the playing field, medal stand, or during the Games’ official ceremonies.

Two-thirds of Athletes Do Not Think It’s Appropriate to Protest During the Competition

“A very clear majority of athletes said that they think it’s not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play, at the official ceremonies, or at the podium,” IOC Athletes’ Commission Chief Kirsty Coventry said.

“So, our recommendation is to preserve the podium, field of play, and official ceremonies from any kind of protest, or demonstrations or acts perceived as such,” the commission chief added.

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The US Women’s Soccer Team kneels in silent protest. (Yahoo News)

The ruling adheres to the International Olympic Committee’s long-standing ban on “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda.” The rules have nothing to do with BLM at all.

Some Atheltic Associations Favor BLM-related Protests in the Olympics

However, athletes who choose to protest will have the support of many groups, including the World Players Association Union.

“Any athlete sanctioned at the Tokyo Olympics will have the full backing of the World Players,” said Brendan Schwab, the union’s executive director.

The organization Global Athlete encouraged athletes to “not allow outdated ‘sports rules’ to supersede your basic human rights.” Two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman, who is part of Global Athlete, believes that it is time to “elevate the voice of the international athlete.”

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“We envision an Olympics where the athletes are the center of the show, more than the host country or the politics around it or the sponsors,” he said. “It is this huge spectacle where the athletes are an afterthought.”

According to TMZ Sports, the phrase BLM will be permitted at press conferences, interviews, and team meetings.

This year’s Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on Friday, July 23, 2021.