Following an unprecedented delay for a year, authorities in Japan are determined to organise the Tokyo Olympics this year. After the pandemic forced the city to postpone the Games last year, the games have been rescheduled between 23 July and 8 August, 2021.
Of course, with the pandemic still looming large, the Games likely will be scaled back a bit, with guidelines enforced to maintain social distancing, restrict movement and limit face-to-face interaction, and several of the pageantries will be toned down.
The Olympics has always been involved with heavy piles of controversies. Putting aside the coronavirus debate of hosting the Summer Games, there will be several other raging topics that would be in talks during the Games. Concern over the heat during Tokyo summer, Russia's doping scandal, USA's gymnasts recovering from a major sexual abuse scandal are some of the highlights in the context. However, one particular issue remains pertinent for long now, whether players would be allowed to protest for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) incident that had rocked the world last year following the death of George Floyd in the USA.
Naomi Osaka wore seven different face masks for each round of the US Open
Major sports franchises like the EPL, ICC, NBA, NFL, ATP, WTA joined the bandwagon last year of taking the knee in support of BLM when sports slowly resumed. We saw legendary sports icons across the globe to paying their homage to the cause of social justice against racial atrocities. During last year’s U.S. Open, professional tennis player Naomi Osaka wore seven different face masks for each round of the tournament. Each mask, which she started wearing when the tournament named a Black person whose death was repeatedly cited in the USA's protests about racial injustice. The power of the protests reached the Indian shore when we saw cricket Hardik Pandya bending his knee during an Indian Premier League.
But what happens in Tokyo 2021?
The Olympics Committee doesn't allow any athlete to protest during the quadrennial sporting extravaganza. From the 1970s, the Olympic Charter made it clear in its Rule 50 that “every kind of demonstration or propaganda whether political, religious or racial is forbidden in Olympic areas”. The charter was enforced because of an incident 53 three years ago. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, 200m winner Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos each raised an arm in a black-gloved protest on the medal stand during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. They were met with derision and sent home. Cast largely as villains by the general public in the aftermath, the two are now recast as American heroes
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, 200m winner Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos each raised an arm in a black-gloved protest
However, over the last one year, when the BLM protest of taking a knee or raising the fist was adopted in most of the places, International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Athletes’ Commission is talking to athletes around the world now to bring an update to the Rule 50. Till January 2020, the IOC was clear with their updated terms.
Who voiced their thoughts in support?
John Carlos and some other US athletes has forwarded a joint letter to the IOC, calling for a new policy in consultation with athletes. Even the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and Global Athlete Organisations has called for a relook at Rule 50. World Athletics [IAAF] chief Sebastian Coe also said that he strongly supports the right for an athlete to protest at the Olympic Games. They collectively believe that the IOC should allow protests that are about social justice, human rights and racism.
Can we expect the BLM protest at the Olympics?
IOC president Thomas Bach, after its executive board meeting in June, said its Athletes’ Commission would hold a dialogue with athletes. “We have fully supported the initiative for the IOC Athletes’ Commission to have dialogue with athletes around the world to explore different ways for how Olympic athletes can express their support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter in a dignified way,” Bach said.
IOC leaders have pointed out that athletes already are able to speak out in many ways - particularly through their access to social media. Megan Rapinoe, who has given a new voice to social justice in sports, didn’t take a knee during the U.S. anthem or the medal ceremony at the FIFA Women's World Cup. However, the way, she always has stood up against former US President Donald Trump has made her one of the most influential and successful protesters in sports history.