American runner Noah Lyles wore a black leather glove with the fingers trimmed on his right hand. Ahead of the 200m final at the Olympic Trials, last month in Eugene, USA, the hand rose. Lyles bowed his head and raised his fist, a symbol of resistance to racism.
This is exactly how Tommy Smith and John Carlos stood at the famous coronation ceremony of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, championing the rights of blacks. Lyles, a favorite to win Olympic gold in the 200 meters, is looking to continue his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. But what he did in America, he will not be allowed to do at the Tokyo Olympics while the whole world watches his match.
The International Olympic Committee prohibits such expressions during matches. Rule 50 of the Olympic Statement states that athletes are not allowed to express themselves politically or religiously at the Games. Due to the increased activity in the sports world, the rule was increasingly under discussion and was watered down a bit ahead of Tokyo. Athletes in Japan are now allowed to express their opinions at venues such as the mixed zone and press conferences, but not in the athletes’ village, during a competition or medal ceremony, or the opening and closing ceremonies.
That would be exciting, says Adam Packer, director of NL Sporter, an interest group that advocates for athletes’ rights. When you stand for something, there is no better stage than doing your job during a medal ceremony or competition. Then everyone watches. After that it makes no sense.
Uncertainty about what is and is not allowed مسموح
Packer says there is still a lot of uncertainty about what is and isn’t allowed. The NOC-NSF gave the participants a dossier before leaving for Japan that should explain how they should now interpret the revised rule. Kneeling during the national anthem as an expression of racism is now allowed, unless it happens during the national anthem of another country. Actions should not be annoying to others.
Female American football players knelt before their first game on Wednesday to protest racism, discrimination and inequality. When NFL player Colin Kaepernick first did it in 2016, it cost him his career. There were also players from Sweden, England and Chile in Tokyo who were seen on one knee during the playing of the national anthem.
But what about sports that use a rainbow belt, a rainbow wig, or a rainbow nail polish, for example, to advocate for gay rights? There is nothing to be found about that. Packer: ‘It’s hard for me to imagine, but it might result in a penalty. Such a ruling would never stand in court. Article 50 is against our constitution and international treaties. We have been fighting to have it abolished for years.
If an athlete crosses the border, what to do is determined in consultation with the International Olympic Committee, the national sports umbrella organization and the International Sports Federation. The NOC-NSF expects little activity from the Dutch Olympians, although according to a Geert Slot spokesperson, there have been talks with teams that were planning “something”. What exactly is a slot do not want to say. But it was a topic discussed in the run-up to Tokyo.”
follow your feelings
In Sochi at the 2014 Winter Games, the Dutch Olympians were concerned about homophobia in Russia. NL Athlete received questions about what they could and couldn’t say about him. “They struggled with this topic because they had an opinion about it, but at the same time they wanted to focus on their sport. I always advise athletes to follow their gut feeling. It can help one to say something, and the other to get upset. You have to realize that the action can have a reaction. Massive. Be prepared for it, Packer says.
In Sochi, snowboarder Cheryl Maas flashes rainbow-colored gloves in front of the camera after running. But at first she insisted it didn’t mean anything. Later, Maas, who previously said Russia’s anti-gay law was a “step back in time”, offered the gloves online for auction with a message: “Not my best achievement in figure skating, but my best for the rights of Human”.
Mas came from Russia unscathed. Skater Jan Blokhuijsen had a lot to put up with after he made a comment about eating dog meat at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. During a press conference, he asked residents “please treat the dogs better,” then took over half the country. Blokhuijsen has been described as racist on social media and has no knowledge of Korean culture.
A day later, the skater apologized on social media and in a press release via NOC-NSF. “I should not have made that comment at this time and in this place. It is a personal opinion that I should not express in a press conference during the Olympics.
In principle, the NOC-NSF does not intend to harshly punish athletes, unless the athlete “significantly contradicts TeamNL values,” according to Slot. The NOC-NSF agrees with the International Olympic Committee that there should be some restrictions on form, location and content out of respect for other athletes.
The black leather glove of American runner Lyles is sure to be in your Tokyo travel bag. In America, the sports world’s need to stand up to racism by the Black Lives Matter movement was so great that the athletes in the Tokyo qualifiers were motivated to speak out. The USA Track and Field Association even handed out posters with slogans like “Courage” and “Respect” and a picture with the silhouette of the famous 1968 Smith and Carlos Medal.
One thing is for sure: the International Olympic Committee will not do that.
“Professional reader. Award-winning gamer. Zombie buff. Social media junkie. Bacon maven. Web scholar.”