John Carlos, US Olympians urge IOC to change protest rules

The athletes council of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, in association with legendary sprinter John Carlos, has called on the International Olympic Committee to remove its anti-protest rule.

The lawsuit, formally presented to the IOC for the first time in a letter Saturday, was made by US Olympians in a conference call Thursday with the IOC Athletes Commission.

The Olympians highlighted the infamous Rule 50, which has suppressed athletes’ voices and rallies at the Olympics for decades, perhaps the most famous in 1968, when Charles and Tommie Smith raised gloved fists during a medal ceremony and were subsequently expelled from the Games.

The rule says: “No type of political, religious or racial manifestation or propaganda is allowed in any Olympic site, place or other area.” The IOC reiterated this in January and clarified that it prohibited the “hand gesture”.[s] or kneeling. “

Saturday’s letter from the US Olympians calls on the IOC to “develop a new policy in direct collaboration with representatives of independent athletes from around the world to protect the freedom of expression of athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“Athletes will no longer be silenced,” he says.

An Olympic movement led by athletes

Thursday’s letter and call, which Carlos started with a powerful sermon, follow weeks of behind-the-scenes debate and debate in the Olympic world. In the month after George Floyd’s death, with protests of racial injustice and police brutality sweeping the world, hundreds of athletes have lobbied the IOC and USOPC for change.

Both organizations have been slow to recognize the movement, but after the city councils in the running earlier this month, the USOPC announced the formation of an athlete-led group “to challenge the rules and systems in our own organization that create barriers to progress. , including [athletes’] right to protest. “

“We will also advocate for change globally,” USOPC Executive Director Sarah Hirshland promised in a letter.

Days later, the IOC announced that it would support its own Athletes Commission in “explore[ing] different ways in which Olympic athletes can express their support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter. “The IOC has long claimed that the Games themselves” are a very powerful worldwide demonstration against racism and inclusion. “And, without However, when the athletes tried to demonstrate against racism and inclusion, the IOC punished them.

Saturday’s letter highlights that contradiction.

“Now we are at a crossroads,” it reads, in part. “The IOC and [International Paralympic Committee] it cannot continue on the path of punishing or expelling athletes who say what they believe, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism. Instead, sports managers 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.

“The United Nations recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental human right because it is essential for social and individual well-being. Aligning with such principles will allow athletes to give the world a hope beyond sport: the hope that voices matter and are a powerful tool for change. The Olympic and Paralympic movement simultaneously honors athletes like John Carlos and Tommie Smith, displaying them in museums and praising their Olympic values, while prohibiting current athletes from following in their footsteps. Carlos and Smith risked everything to defend human rights and what they believed in, and continue to inspire generation after generation to do the same. It is time for the Olympic and Paralympic movement to honor their bravery rather than denounce their actions. “

Tommie Smith and John Carlos after winning their 1968 Olympic medals. (Getty)

Participation of John Carlos

Thursday’s call ushered in what the IOC calls a “consultation process” with athletes from around the world. Kikkan Randall, a US cross country skier and member of the IOC Athletes Commission, facilitated the meeting. The USOPC Athlete Advisory Council invited half a dozen black athletes who had spoken passionately and eloquently in internal councils to express their views to the IOC commission.

In the days leading up to the call, Moushaumi Robinson, a 2004 Olympic leader and USACC AAC, connected with Carlos. “Dr. Carlos, you have to be on this call,” Robinson told him. “You are the reason we are here.” Carlos navigated a busy schedule and joined his fellow Olympians. He told a shortened version of his story, of the oppression and ostracism of the Olympic movement, and then connected it to the present.

“It combined what is happening now, not just with African Americans, but with the right to be able to speak out about social injustice to any human being,” Robinson told Yahoo Sports. “And how was that moment in ’68 for this moment at this moment.”

“Honestly, after Dr. Carlos spoke, we could have hung up the phone because it was very successful,” said Robinson. “But we connected after the call. He said, ‘Young lady, listening to the young men on the call, I just wanted to burst, I was so excited and so happy.’ “

What the Olympians want and why

The call lasted about an hour. “It was a little bit different than the calls we’ve had before with the IOC Athletes’ Commission,” Han Xiao, president of USOPC AAC, told Yahoo Sports. “It is generally a very controlled environment. There is a lot of presentation, there is a lot of previously prepared material coming from them. On this particular call, we were given plenty of room to speak, and our athletes were allowed to convey their thoughts. … That was a welcome change. “

The question, now, is what comes next. There is skepticism among some Olympic athletes that the IOC Athletes Commission, which has been tabulated to facilitate these discussions, will not listen to athletes but to the organization it serves, the IOC. And the IOC “track record,” as Xiao says, of athlete-led progressivism, “is not excellent.”

The problem is not simple. There are debate points, mainly logistical: “How [protest] Respectfully? “Xiao says.” How do you do it without taking away the moments of other athletes? How [design a rule] without opening it up to all kinds of hate speech, and real political statements, and things like that?

And in the past, Xiao says, as recently as last year, “there were still some athletes who were very much against the podium protests.”

But racial justice, according to many, is not political. Kneeling down to protest injustice is not a political statement. It is a declaration on human rights that the IOC intends to support.

The US Olympians and the AAC will work on proposals to navigate those murky waters. What your Saturday letter is looking to do is establish a new baseline. They do not want modified wording or small concessions. They want freedom of expression. “A reconsideration of how he addresses this issue,” says Xiao. And then a conversation that continues from there.