Albert Einstein said, “those who ignore history are doomed to wear it.” There was conflict when the Olympics expelled Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos from the 1968 Mexico Olympics for raising their fists as a homage to the “Black power” movement. 53 years later, the Olympics is sparking discord by prohibiting another Black political movement, and PCC student-athletes have reasonable, but very different opinions on the subject.
According to the charter published by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Rule 50 is applied to all athletes during the 2021 Olympics in Japan. Rule 50 is stated to provide a framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games. The rule restricted athletes from any political, religious, or racial apparel, such as wearing shirts with “Black Lives Matter”, as well as from participating in acts of protest inside stadiums, at ceremonies, and on podiums.
Saku Yoshioka, the setter/libero from PCC’s women’s volleyball team, disagrees with Rule 50.
“I completely disagree with the Olympic’s rule 50,” said Yoshioka. “When it comes to global issues related to human rights, such as racism, I believe it is inappropriate to ban athletes from protesting or demonstrating. I think it is important that professional athletes have the power to influence the world and encourage people to stand against racism, regardless.”
Starting in June 2020, the IOC had surveyed over 3,500 athletes, representing 185 different nations and all 41 Olympic sports, and ensuring fully gender-equal representation. The result showed that 70% of athletes thought it “was not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play” or at official ceremonies.
From another point of view, Cosette Balmy, a former point guard from PCC women’s basketball team, thinks Rule 50 is necessary.
“I think it will allow the athletes to focus on the game,” said Balmy. “Rule 50 can put the matter on the side for a moment and enjoy the competition and keep the focus where it should be. Because when people go to see a basketball game, they are not there for a riot.”
Since the Olympics are a worldwide event, every competition and athlete receives a massive amount of media attention. Their actions, even in acts of protest, can affect social change on a large scale.
“Because the Olympics are a major international event and racism is a global issue, banning athletes from protesting or demonstrating is an injustice in itself,” said Yoshioka. “Not using this opportunity to broadcast messages condemning racism after a year filled with the tragic killings of people of color is simply wrong. Failing to globally address this issue diminishes the urgency to address racism and contributes to racism’s perpetual practice.”
Rule 50 has been criticized by American Olympians. The United States has a long history of protesting and freedom of speech, banning American athletes from protesting is considered a violation of human rights according to The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s Athletes’ Advisory Council.
In an interview with Yahoo Sports, Gwen Berry, a 2016 Olympian and 2020 hopeful in the hammer throw, declared her unwillingness to obey the rule.
“This doesn’t deter me, or athletes like me, who want to talk about issues that need to be recognized,” Berry said. “We’ll speak out. We’ll say what needs to be said. And we’ll do what needs to be done.”
Furthermore, Berry posted a picture on Twitter of herself raising a fist at the Pan American Games podium, with a caption calling the IOC is “full of sh*t,” and “hypocrites who continue to silence athletes for capital gain.”
The purpose of the Olympics is to cultivate human beings, through sport, and contribute to world peace. If every athlete expresses their political position, the spotlight will be shifted from enjoyments of competition to arguments of differences.
“I don’t think political appeal should be involved in the Olympics,” stated Balmy. “Although the rule applies to every athlete, I think many people are going to take it personally more than others. The situation might get messy, people might think their rights are being exploited. But the Olympics is the place to become faster, higher, stronger, everything should be about the sport, focusing on self-improvement, breakthrough limits, and show the result of hard training.”
As the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission chief and a former Olympic swimming champion for Zimbabwe, Kirsty Coventry, also commented on the rule.
“I would not want something to distract from my competition and take away from that. That is how I still feel today,” Coventry said in an interview with the Returners.
As the survey showed, a clear majority of athletes said that it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play (70% of respondents), at official ceremonies (70% of respondents), or on the podium (67% of respondents). Coventry is certain that most athletes would obey Rule 50. As for those who disobey, punishment will be sentenced.
The decision of punishing athletes “is because of the majority of athletes we spoke to. That is what they are requesting for,” according to Coventry.
Along with Berry and other American Olympians, Yoshioka decided to fight for lifting the rule.
“If I were an Olympic athlete, I would seek out other athletes who were also against rule 50 and conspire to break the rule together. If the committee punished us, we would at least be able to say that we went down fighting,” Yoshioka said.
So far, the IOC has not stated what types of punishment athletes could face for violating Rule 50. They only stated that they will treat each violation on a case-by-case basis.
The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by a year due to the pandemic, kicks off July 23.
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