Mike Von shot this Black Lives Matter protest last summer/Unsplash

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The International Olympics Committee on Friday loosened restrictions on athletes’ freedom of expression, more than 50 years after gold medalist Tommie Smith raised a gloved fist and gave the Olympics one of its most iconic moments.

The IOC called the ruling an “extension of opportunity” to protest, though athletes won’t be allowed to express their views during the Games’ brightest spotlights, such as the medal podium, during competition (although before or after is OK) or in the opening or closing ceremonies. The protests should not target a specific country. 

The IOC agreed to modify Rule 50, the longstanding belief that the Games should be staged on a “field of neutrality” given the fact that warring countries could be participating against each other, and the IOC wanted the games to be about friendly competition, not politics. But the U.S. Olympic Committee pushed the IOC to change Rule 50 in December, calling for an end to banning peaceful protests.

“The Council’s recommendation is built on the foundation that athletes should have the right to peacefully protest and demonstrate against racial and social injustices and to promote human dignity through global sport,” the U.S. committee said in a press release. “It calls for the IOC and IPC to update guidelines to allow for peaceful actions that specifically advocate for human rights and racial and social justice, and distinguishes those acts from to-be-defined “divisive demonstrations” – including, but not limited to, currently prohibited acts of hate speech, racist propaganda, political statements and discrimination.”

Gwen Berry refused to face the flag while receiving her bronze medal in the hammer throw during the U.S. Olympic Trials in late June but remained a member of the team. In the past, athletes could be shunned for any kind of protest. The stance of Smith and teammate John Carlos in 1968 effectively ended their running careers. 

Not all athletes plan to protest, including DeAnna Price, who won the gold in the hammer throw and unabashedly held her hand over her heart and cried during the National Anthem. But Price also supported Berry, a close friend: “She’s gonna do her, (and) I’m gonna do me.”

“That’s one thing I love (about) America is that we have freedom of speech,” Price said. 

MEDIA PERSPECTIVES

This section includes an aggregation of articles showing different viewpoints on the topic.

She Protested on a Medal Podium. Will the Olympics Ban That? – The New York Times – 7/6/2021
With the July 23 opening of the Tokyo Games nearing, American and international Olympic officials are disputing where to draw the line for protests as athletes across the sports world, however contentious the issue has become, leverage their power and influence to promote social and political causes.

Black Female Athletes Score for Activism – Slate – 7/6/2021
But this kind of protest is nothing new for Berry or for Black women in sports who have used their success to call for justice and equality, and to amplify the voices of others who do that work. 

1968: Medals stand protest became model for sports activism; it just took a while – Los Angeles Times – 7/20/2018
The manner in which they stood shoeless made the gesture seem less menacing.

George Foreman expresses patriotism amid athletes’ protest of US flag – Washington Examiner – 7/5/2021
Boxing great George Foreman said he is “not ashamed” of his love for America in an Independence Day tribute, drawing a stark contrast with some professional athletes’ recent protests of the U.S. flag.

Count on Olympic athletes to push limits despite rule changes for protesting – USA Today – 7/2/2021
The protests on the field of play come with a caveat: The protest or gesture must be “consistent with the fundamental principles of Olympism; not targeted, directly or indirectly, against people, countries, organizations and/or their dignity; not disruptive; … and not prohibited or otherwise limited by the rules of the relevant national Olympic committee and/or the competition regulations of the relevant international federation.”

The World Braces for the Wokest Olympics of All-Time – Breitbart – 7/5/2021
The move comes as several athletes from an array of sports demonstrated their disdain for America, most recently U.S. Olympic hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turned away from the American flag during the playing of the National Anthem after qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics during trials in Oregon. 

Protesting Athlete Stole Spotlight for Self – Newsmax – 7/1/2021
Gwen Berry, a talented hammer thrower, stood on the medals stand and showed the world just how flawed our nation is. And she showed how bratty, petulant and intolerant some of our citizens have become.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVES

This section includes an aggregation of tweets showing different viewpoints on the topic.

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