Taking his knee, raising his fist to be penalized at the Tokyo Games-IOC

The Olympic rings were photographed in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lausanne, Switzerland, on February 24, 2021. REUTERS / Denis? Balibouse

Taking a knee during the Tokyo Olympics or raising a fist in support of racial equality will be punished while the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday upheld a ban on athletes protesting in stadiums, ceremonies and podiums.

IOC Rule 50 prohibits any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in places and any other Olympic area, and the Games body concluded that the rule should be maintained after consultation with athletes.

In the background of the Black Lives Matter movement protesting against racial injustice, calls for a change in the rule that would allow athletes to protest have risen in recent months.

Some heads of international federations, including World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, have said athletes should be entitled to gestures of political protest during the Games.

The head of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry, who led the revision of the rules, said most of the athletes consulted were against any protests on the playing fields or on the podium.

“I wouldn’t want anything to distract from my competition and take it away. That’s how I feel today,” Coventry, a former Zimbabwean Olympic swimming champion, said in an online presentation of the results of the Rule 50 conference.

Coventry said there are a number of recommendations approved by the IOC Executive Board on Wednesday, including providing clarity on sanctions, more information on Rule 50, changing the wording of the Olympic oath with inclusion messages and producing sportswear with inclusive messages.

Asked, however, whether athletes would be punished in Tokyo for making political statements like taking their knees on the podium in support of racial equality, Coventry said, “Yes, that’s right.”

“It’s also because of most of the athletes we’ve talked to. That’s what they’re looking for,” Coventry said.

The IOC’s recommendations are the result of a consultative process that began in June 2020 and involved over 3,500 athletes.

Coventry said about 70% of those athletes don’t want protests on podiums, ceremonies and playing fields.

The Olympic Games in Tokyo, postponed for a year due to the pandemic, started on July 23.

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