Athlete groups, unions pledge legal support for athletes that protest at Tokyo Olympics

Multiple activist groups and athlete unions have pledged legal support for any athlete that opts to make a political or social justice statement at the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo — something the International Olympic Committee banned on Wednesday.

The IOC executive board “unanimously approved” the recommendation for a continued ban on protests and demonstrations at the Olympics, including during both medal ceremonies and competitions.

A 42-page report, which came after a 10-month review of their previous protest rules, said that the IOC should “increase opportunities for athletes’ expression during the Games,” but that it should “preserve the podium, field of play and official ceremonies” as protest-free zones.

Brendan Schwab, the executive director of the World Players Association union, told The Associated Press on Thursday that “any athlete sanctioned” for protesting or demonstrating at the games will have the full backing of his organization.

“This is precisely the outcome we expected,” Schwab told The Associated Press. “The Olympic movement doesn’t understand its own history better than the athletes.”

IOC bans protests, demonstrations at Tokyo Olympics

An IOC survey asked more than 3,000 current and former athletes about the appropriateness of demonstrating or expressing “individual views on political issues and other topics” in various Olympic arenas.

A slight majority of respondents said doing so was appropriate in the media, while a strong majority said it was not appropriate to do so on both Olympic podiums and in competition. China had the most athletes surveyed by the IOC at 14%, and the United States came in at second with 7%.

The online survey was open for 31 days, and some have criticized the wording of questions in it.

Ireland’s Caradh O’Donovan, a karate athlete who helped launch the group Global Athlete, made a similar pledge to Schwab on Thursday and encouraged athletes to speak out. O’Donovan also bashed the IOC’s survey methods.

“[Athletes should] not allow outdated ‘sports rules’ to supersede your basic human rights,” O’Donovan said, via The Associated Press.

“These types of surveys only empower the majority when it is the minority that want and need to be heard.”

Athletes who violate the IOC’s rule at the Tokyo Games could face punishment, though it is not clear in what way. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has called on the IOC to end its prohibition of protests at the Games, as have several current and former American athletes.

The Tokyo Olympics, which were initially delayed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are set to start on July 23.

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