Olympics are “on the wrong side of history” when it comes to free speech

An important debate is brewing on freedom of expression at the Olympic Games. After years of restricting the freedom of expression of athletes at the Games by the International Olympic Committee, some prominent athletes are calling for the unlimited right to express themselves freely, including the right to protest.

Defenders include Canadian decathlete Damien Warner, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, who said: “If they have something in mind, then the athletes should be allowed to speak. The IOC, he said, is “on the wrong side of history.” The United States Olympic and Paralympic Advisory Committee agrees.

In response, the IOC relaxed its Rule 50 on “publicity, protests and propaganda” to allow free speech in interviews and meetings, but firmly maintained bans against “political” statements on the ground. games and during ceremonies. The committee threatens to punish any athlete who disobeys.

The IOC Athletes’ Commission backs Rule 50, saying it believes that “the emphasis at the Olympic Games must remain on athlete performance, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to achieve. progress “. But another of the recommendations of the Athletes’ Commission, following a survey and a consultation process, was to “increase the opportunities for athletes to express themselves during the Games”. “The feedback was that they didn’t want it to interfere with the competition itself, to make sure the competition itself was protected,” said Rosie MacLennan, two-time gold medalist in trampoline and president of the Athletes’ Commission of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

In global polls, the Rule 50 won the support of the majority of athletes for this position. The Athletes’ Commission of the Canadian Olympic Committee reported that 80 percent of athletes surveyed supported the rule.

The push for free speech is an artifact of growing athlete activism in recent years in response to racism in European football, relentless police violence against blacks and other minorities in countries like the United States. United, and Chinese human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.

At the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru, two American athletes, fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry staged silent protests against “racism, gun control, immigrant abuse and a president who spreads hatred ”in their country.

For many years, Rule 50 completely banned critical statements or demonstrations by athletes at games – and sports bodies forced their athletes to comply, and athletes followed suit.

The style was embodied by basketball superstar Michael Jordan, who avoided political statements “because Republicans buy shoes too.” When Canadian skier Laurie Graham compared herself to a cruise missile coming down the hill to a World Cup victory, I asked her not to use a death and destruction metaphor for a peaceful activity like sport. . She quickly agreed, which delighted me. But then she said she didn’t want to get in trouble with her sponsors, who told her to avoid controversy.

As a competitor in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and columnist in a widely distributed student newspaper in the Olympic Village, I fully support the right to freedom of expression. I have always believed that athletes should take responsibility for the circumstances and the sports in which they are involved and they cannot do so without the right to speak out.

Athletes should be able to wear personal symbols, such as native scarves or rainbow nail polish, both of which have been permitted or prohibited in competitions and ceremonies at different times.

Freedom of expression is an internationally recognized human right. It is not something that should be conferred or refused by a vote. The majority should never be able to silence the minority.

I still subscribe to John Stuart Mills’ warning that “if all of humanity minus one was of the opinion, and one person was of the opposite opinion, humanity would not be more justified in silencing that person that he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing humanity. The intercultural education dear to the Olympic Movement would be reinforced by total freedom of expression. We can’t harass others about what we believe, but we have to be honest about who we are.

I spoke in China about the rights of athletes. While few agreed with me, no one was shocked. They listened. Me too. The IOC should embrace and support such interactions and tell authoritative hosts that this is the purpose of the Olympics.

If some athletes still decide to protest in Tokyo or the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games and are punished, that punishment will become the problem. I would be horrified by a repeat of 1968, when the IOC kicked out US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the Mexico City Olympics for protesting the poverty and racism of the victory podium – effectively banning them from defending aspirations. Olympic.

With all the challenges facing Tokyo and Beijing, Rule 50 is unlikely to be reconsidered before both Games are held. But the problem will not go away, and I would like to think that the final restrictions will be lifted by the Paris Olympics in 2024.

In the meantime, athletes like MacLennan, who regularly consults with Canadian athletes, should use the openness offered by the IOC consultation to push for continued athlete engagement and athlete-centered reforms at scale. international – including a much greater voice and vote of athletes on decision-making bodies.

Once face-to-face meetings resume, athletes should return to the old practice of open meetings in the Olympic Village where they can present and discuss the issues that concern them most, including the geopolitical issues rocking the Games.

If there was a real opportunity for athletes to get involved in sport governance and public policy, they would have much less reason to protest.

Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, has always seen the Olympic Games as an educational project and the athletes as the subjects of self-actualization of their activity and their learning. For athletes to learn, they must learn to deal with political and intercultural issues and know when and how to express themselves.

The IOC should embrace freedom of expression as a contribution to its highest goals.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

About Douglas Torres

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