Famous Olympic activists Tommie Smith and John Carlos call for change to IOC protest rule
Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Gwen Berry are among more than 150 athletes, educators and activists who signed a letter on Thursday urging the IOC not to punish participants who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games.
The five-page letter, published on the eve of the Olympics, asks the IOC not to sanction athletes who kneel or raise their fists, as Smith and Carlos did at the Mexico Games in 1968.
Berry, the American hammer thrower who sparked much of this debate, has said she intends to use her Olympic platform to highlight racial inequalities in the United States. She turned away from the flag when the national anthem was played while in the medal gallery at the Olympic trials last month.
The IOC has made changes to its Rule 50 which bans political demonstrations at the Games, and said it will allow them on the pitch, as long as they take place before the action begins. Players from five Olympic soccer teams knelt on their knees Wednesday before their games on the sport’s opening night.
To remain neutral means to remain silent, and to remain silent means to support continuing injustice.– Extract from a letter urging the IOC not to punish the demonstrators
But the IOC has not lifted the ban on medal pit events and left some of the decision-making on sanctions to individual sports federations.
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“We do not believe that the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right or to racial and social justice in world sport,” said the letter, which was posted on the website. from the Muhammad Ali Center and also signed by Ali’s daughter, Lalia Ali, quadruple world boxing champion.
The letter challenged the IOC’s long-standing position that the Olympics should remain neutral, arguing that “neutrality is never neutral”.
“To remain neutral means to remain silent, and to remain silent means to support the injustice that is taking place,” he said.
The letter also challenged a survey of athletes conducted by the IOC Athletes’ Commission which found broad support for Rule 50. The commission cited the survey as a central reason for making the recommendation to largely maintain the rule. rule intact.
“The report does not provide any information on racial / ethnic demographics or the research instrument used and steps taken to strengthen the validity and reliability of the data,” the letter said.
The largest sample of the 3,547 athletes surveyed came from China (14%), where the protests were overwhelmingly frowned upon by those who answered the questions. American athletes were the second largest contingent to respond (seven percent), followed by athletes from Japan (six percent).
Other signatories to the letter included fencer Race Imboden, who, along with Berry, was placed on probation by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for demonstrating at the medal stand at the 2019 Pan Am Games. changed its position and will not sanction athletes who demonstrate in Tokyo.
Harry Edwards, the longtime activist who organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the actions in Mexico City of Smith and Carlos, also signed.