Olympic athletes promised legal support by union and activists if they protest at Tokyo games

Athletes who want to raise a fist or take a knee for political or social justice reasons at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics are being promised legal representation by a global union and an activist group out of Germany.

The proffered aid was announced on Thursday after the Internation Olympic Committee (IOC) reconfirmed its long-standing ban on “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” displayed on the field of play, at official ceremonies, or at the medal podium.

If participants raise a fist or kneel during the National Anthem they could be subject to punishment from the IOC. The severity of that punishment will be reportedly announced before the games begin on July 23.

The IOC surveyed more than 3,500 athletes over the past year and claims that 70% indicated that it was “not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views” on the field or at the opening or closing ceremonies. It also showed 67% of respondents disapproved of podium demonstrations.

(Video Credit: Sky Sports News)

“I would not want something to distract from my competition and take away from that. That is how I still feel today,” said IOC’s Athletes’ Commission chief Kirsty Coventry according to Reuters. She is a former Olympic swimming champion from Zimbabwe.

When asked if athletes will be punished for any type of violation, Coventry said, “Yes, that is correct.”

“That is also because of the majority of athletes we spoke to — that is what they are requesting for,” she noted.

“This is precisely the outcome we expected,” said Brendan Schwab, who is the executive director of the World Players Association union. “The Olympic movement doesn’t understand its own history better than the athletes.”

Each case will be judged on its own merits. However, athletes who follow in the iconic footsteps of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics still run the chance of being sent home. Smith and Carlos were both expelled from the 1968 Olympics after their raised fist salute.

“Any athlete sanctioned at the Tokyo Olympics will have the full backing of the World Players,” Schwab told the AP.

An independent group that represents German athletes pledged legal representation for its team: “Should German athletes decide to peacefully stand up for fundamental values such as fighting racism during the Olympic Games, they can rely on the legal support of Athleten Deutschland,” Johannes Herber, the group’s chief executive, declared in a statement.

Both the union and the activist group vowed they would protect minorities from discrimination. They called on the IOC to recognize the rights of athletes to express themselves.

“The IOC erred by trying to regulate the place where a protest might take place instead of the statement’s content,” Schwab remarked, stating that athletes’ freedom of expression in the Olympics “should be respected, protected and indeed promoted.”

Athletes can receive disciplinary action from the IOC, their sport’s governing body, or their national Olympic committee if they breach Rule 50.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe and FIFA president Gianni Infantino both oppose punishing athletes for social justice statements.

“There is enormous confusion over responsibility to sanction,” Schwab commented.

Slogans such as “Black Lives Matter” will not be allowed on the playing field or on athlete attire at the games. The IOC did approve the use of the words peace, respect, solidarity, inclusion, and equality on T-shirts.

Other concessions include adding references to “inclusion and equality” to the Olympic Oath that will be read at the opening ceremony in Tokyo.

Commenters on social media seemed to approve:

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