Athletes who breach rules on expression at the Tokyo Olympics could be stripped of medals and disqualified from the Games where the protest is deemed disruptive or against fundamental Olympic principles.
The International Olympic Committee has issued updated guidelines to competitors regarding Rule 50, which covers their rights to freedom of expression including gestures such as taking the knee.
A survey on athletes’ attitudes to Rule 50 was conducted by the IOC’s Athletes Commission earlier this year, and it recommended to the IOC that protests during competition on the field of play, at official ceremonies, including medal presentations, and in the Olympic Village should continue to be prohibited.
The decision to keep the rule in place was criticised by athletes and governing bodies, including the global union for professional footballers FIFPRO which said it supported an athletes’ right to take a stand on matters of social justice or positive societal change “wherever they may choose to do so”.
Athletes have now been given advice on what will happen if the guidelines are not respected.
They may be subject to disciplinary proceedings, the guidelines state, depending on a variety of factors.
These include the degree of disruption caused by the behaviour, whether the expression advocated national, racial or religious hatred or incited discrimination or violence, whether disciplinary action is necessary “to protect the values of Olympism”, whether it was an isolated incident, whether it was a voluntary act or the individual was coerced, and whether a complaint was made by another athlete about the behaviour.
The guidelines state: “Disciplinary consequences for participants may be as set out in the Olympic Charter and will depend in part on the findings of the above evaluation.
“Participants may expect that any sanction will be proportionate to the level of disruption and the degree to which the infraction is not compatible with the Olympic values, including the fundamental principles of Olympism.”
In the section of the Olympic Charter dealing with measures and sanctions, it states sanctions can include temporary and permanent ineligibility or exclusion from the Olympic Games, disqualification or withdrawal of accreditation.
It continues: “In the event of disqualification or exclusion, the medals and diplomas obtained in relation to the relevant infringement of the Olympic Charter shall be returned to the IOC.”
The new guidance sets out where athletes can express their views during the Games. These include the mixed zone, during press conferences, team meetings, social media and on the field of play prior to competition, provided it is “consistent with the fundamental principles of Olympism”, not targeted against people, countries or organisations, not disruptive or prohibited by the athlete’s national Olympic committee or international federation.
IOC athletes’ commission chair Kirsty Coventry said: “While the guidelines offer new opportunities for athletes to express themselves prior to the competition, they preserve the competitions on the field of play, the ceremonies, the victory ceremonies and the Olympic Village.
“This was the wish of a big majority of athletes in our global consultation.”