TOKYO (KXAN) — The postponed 2020 Summer Olympics are less than 80 days away from taking place in Tokyo against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be an Olympics unlike any other — with no international fans.
Athletes will have to pass a battery of COVID-19 tests and one positive result could ruin years of hard work and training.
Millions of eyes will be on the Games all over the world. It’s a tremendous stage — both for athletic triumph and possibly social change. One notable image is from the 1968 Summer Olympics when Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists to protest racism.
But the Olympics continue to ban athlete protests and could punish athletes who choose to protest anyway. That means raising a fist or kneeling during the national anthem as many professional U.S. athletes have done over the past year risks punishment.
The International Olympic Committee was very specific with what is not allowed. It directly said that the slogan “Black Lives Matter” will be banned from athlete apparel at the Summer Olympics.
It’s part of the IOC’s long-standing ban on “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” on the playing field, the medal stand or during the Games’ official ceremonies.
More generic words like “peace,” “respect,” “solidarity,” “inclusion” and “equality” will be allowed on T-shirts.
So far, the IOC has not said what types of punishment athletes could face for violating these rules. It only said it would treat each violation on a case-by-case basis.
The IOC athletes’ commission cited support to uphold Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter from more than two-thirds of about 3,500 replies from consulting athlete groups. The IOC said 70% of athletes polled do not think it’s appropriate to demonstrate during competition, and 67% said it’s not appropriate either on the medal stand.
Athletes breaching Rule 50 can be sanctioned by three bodies: the IOC, their sport’s governing body, and their national Olympic committee (NOC).
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee pledged in December not to sanction athletes for peacefully protesting at the Olympic trials.
Many governing bodies for different Olympic sports also have said they would not punish athletes for protesting, including World Athletics, the global governing body for track and field.
Some groups have promised legal support for athletes who protest. The World Players Association union said the IOC’s decision was a move it expected.
“Any athlete sanctioned at the Tokyo Olympics will have the full backing of the World Players,” said Brendan Schwab, the union’s executive director.
And the group Global Athlete also issued a statement, encouraging athletes to “not allow outdated ‘sports rules’ to supersede your basic human rights.”
Noah Hoffman is heavily involved with Global Athlete. He’s a two-time Olympian, having competed in cross-country skiing in both Sochi in 2014 and PyeongChang in 2018. Though he thoroughly enjoyed both of his Olympic experiences, he told Nexstar’s Andrew Marden that he strongly believes that it is time to “elevate the voice of the international athlete.”
“We envision an Olympics where the athletes are the center of the show, more than the host country or the politics around it or the sponsors,” Hoffman said. “It is this huge spectacle where the athletes are an afterthought.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.