For a small percentage of Olympians, long hours of training are complemented with medals and podiums every four years.
The Olympic podium becomes the world’s stage for the finest athletes.
This podium has been a political platform for athletes throughout time.
One podium that has had an everlasting impact on the Olympic Games is that of the 1968 men’s 200-meter race.
Tommie Smith, an American sprinter and gold medalist, represented more than his country during his medal ceremony which crowned him the world record holder in the men’s 200-meter at the time.
Along with John Carlos, an American sprinter and bronze medalist who placed third behind the Australian silver medalist Peter Norman, Smith raised his black-gloved fist in the air during the American national anthem to bring attention to the discrimination against African Americans.
Smith, Norman and Carlos also wore “Olympic Project for Human Rights” badges.
The three stood in solidarity for human rights and it caught the world’s attention.
Smith and Carlos were both abruptly sent home from the Olympic Games in Mexico City, but were recently added to the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in November 2019.
Ironically, displays like these are now banned from the Olympic Games as of Jan. 9 because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that political demonstrations are not allowed during the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The IOC released “Rule 50” of the Olympic Charter which is the codification of the fundamental principles of Olympism with the goal of international unity, according to the IOC Athletes’ Commission.
Rule 50 states that, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
It also reveals the areas in which athletes are allowed to express their views, such as the media centers or in team meetings.
Tokyo 2020 aims to be a respectful and peaceful event for all its participants.
With that, the IOC feels that giving the athletes an ultimatum will promote harmony.
Kneeling, turning away or raising fists during anthems will not be permitted.
Displays like these are now discouraged by the IOC and will result in case-specific disciplinary actions.
The world’s stage is now censored. Athletes seeking to bring attention to a cause must contain themselves in the Olympic spotlight.
They must stay silent or face the consequences.
This new rule gives more power to the overseeing Olympic organization, and hushing the athletes will not solve any peaceful protest.
Politics are difficult to separate from the international competition set to take place this coming July.
It is the classic “don’t press the red button” scenario. Telling someone not to do something may in turn make them want to do that action more. Yes, political demonstrations may be frowned upon by some.
However, declaring that the athletes can’t express themselves urges them to stand up to the IOC, rather than conform to their agenda and legislation.
Olympic athletes use their platform for activism. They understand that they have the world watching their every move.
Neutrality is the goal. But doesn’t silence favor the oppressor?
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