The claim: Black Lives Matter apparel and other forms of political expression are banned at the Olympics
U.S. track stars John Carlos and Tommie Smith were sent home from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City after raising black-gloved fists in a Black power salute as they stood on the medal podium.
More than half a century later, Olympic athletes are still barred from protesting during the games.
A post circulating on Facebook credits Japan, host of the delayed 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, for keeping the policy in place. A version of the post from June 6 was shared 15,000 times as of June 25.
In reality, it was the International Olympic Committee, not the host country, that barred protests at the games. But the gistof the post is accurate: Clothing bearing phrases like Black Lives Matter, kneeling and raising a fist all violate the rule.
The rule has gotten renewed scrutiny as demonstrations against racial injustice have swept across U.S. cities in the wake of police killings of Black people.
Protests have seeped into sports as well. Former NFL quarterback Collin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem before games drew widespread attention in 2016. Since then, athletes across the sports spectrum have staged similar demonstrations.
A Facebook user who shared the post on June 6 did not respond to a request for comment
Ban on protests stands
After a review of the ban on protests, the IOC said in April it would keep Rule 50 of the Olympic charter.
The IOC describes Rule 50 as a “framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games.” It bars commercial installations, advertising signs and demonstrations, along with “political, religious or racial propaganda.”
The rule is in place to keep playing fields, podiums and the Olympic Village neutral, according to an explanation on the Olympics’ website.
“When an individual makes their grievances, however legitimate, more important than the feelings of their competitors and the competition itself, the unity and harmony as well as the celebration of sport and human accomplishment are diminished,” according to the website.
Protests and demonstrations are banned on playing fields, in the Olympic Village, during medal ceremonies and during other official ceremonies under the rule. Protests include “displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands” along with “gestures of a political nature,” such as kneeling.
Carlos and Smith were sent home from the 1968 Games after their demonstration, which included wearing socks without shoes and beads around their neck, in addition to the raised fists.
But protests have become a bigger part of sports since Kaepernick began kneeling before games in 2016. Police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020 that sparked protests around the country spurred demonstrations among athletes as well.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted in 2020 that the league was wrong for not listening to players' concerns earlier and encouraged peaceful protest.
The Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court during an NBA playoff game in 2020 after police in Wisconsin shot and seriously injured Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man.
WNBA players initially were fined for wearing Black Lives Matter shirts before games in 2016 before the league changed its policy and rescinded the fines.
U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team member Megan Rapinoe in 2020 said Olympic athletes “will not be silenced,” despite the IOC’s rule.
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos extend gloved hands skyward in racial protest during the playing of national anthem at the 1968 Olympics.
How will violations be handled?
The IOC has said incidents of athletes violating the rule will be evaluated by their home country’s national Olympic committee, along with their sport's international federation and the IOC.
Discipline will be meted out on a case-by-case basis, according to guidelines outlined by the IOC’s Athletes Commission.
In August 2019, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee put two athletes on probation for protests on the medal stand at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
But in March, the U.S. committee said it would allow demonstrations, including kneeling during the national anthem, at Team USA trials.
In December 2020 the U.S. committee said it would no longer punish Team USA athletes who peacefully demonstrate. That doesn't apply to the Tokyo Games overseen by the IOC, however.
The committee did not respond to a request for comment clarifying its position on athletes demonstrating at the Tokyo Games.
The IOC also has distinguished between "expressing views" and protests. Its guidelines say athletes can express opinions during press conferences and media interviews, at team meetings or on traditional and digital media.
LIMA, PERU - AUGUST 09: Gold medalist Race Imboden of United States takes a knee during the National Anthem Ceremony in the podium of Fencing Men's Foil Team Gold Medal Match Match on Day 14 of Lima 2019 Pan American Games at Fencing Pavilion of Lima Convention Center on August 09, 2019 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775311501 ORIG FILE ID: 1167100210
Our rating: True
The claim that Black Lives Matter apparel and other forms of political expression are banned at the Olympics is TRUE, based on our research. The International Olympic Committee said it would keep a rule that bars any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” for the Tokyo Games.
Our fact-check sources:
Smithsonian Magazine, August 2008, Olympic Athletes Who Took a Stand
International Olympic Committee, April 21, IOC Athletes’ Commission’s recommendations on Rule 50 and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games fully endorsed by the IOC Executive Board
International Olympic Committee, accessed June 25, Rule 50 Explained
International Olympic Committee, accessed June 25, Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission
The Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2017, They didn’t #TakeTheKnee: The Black Power protest salute that shook the world in 1968
CBS Sports, June 5, 2020, Roger Goodell says NFL was 'wrong for not listening' earlier, encourages all to peacefully protest
Sports Illustrated, Aug. 29, 2020, 'Our Voices Were Heard': Inside the 48 Hours That Brought Back the 2020 NBA Playoffs
The Chicago Tribune, Sept. 9, 2020, Timeline: A look back at some of the most prominent sports protests over the years
Sports Illustrated, January 10, 2020, Megan Rapinoe on IOC's Ban on Political Protests at 2020 Olympics: 'We Will Not be Silenced'
The Washington Post, Aug. 21, 2019, U.S. fencer Race Imboden given 12-month probation for Pan Am Games protest
The Washington Post, March 30, USOPC will allow social justice demonstrations at Olympic trials, pushing back against IOC rule
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, accessed June 25, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter: What you need to know as an athlete
ABC News, April 22, Olympic athletes promised legal support if they protest
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, May 19, TEAM USA COUNCIL ON RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE RELEASES SECOND SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS, IDENTIFYING WAYS TO ENHANCE ATHLETE EXPRESSION IN THE U.S. OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC MOVEMENTS
The New York Times, Dec. 10, 2020, U.S. Will Not Punish Olympic Athletes for Peaceful Protests
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Dec. 10, 2020, TEAM USA COUNCIL ON RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE RELEASES FIRST SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS, ASKS FOR RULE CHANGE ALLOWING ATHLETES TO PEACEFULLY PROTEST AND DEMONSTRATE WITHOUT SANCTIONS DURING OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES
Snopes, M Is BLM Apparel Banned at Tokyo Olympics?
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