US: Olympic Committee recognises the right to protest by athletes at Olympic Games

US: Olympic Committee recognises the right to protest by athletes at Olympic Games - Civic Space

David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) recognising athletes’ right to protest and calling on the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to ‘end the prohibition of peaceful demonstrations’ at Olympic and Paralympic games.  The USOPC specifically called on the IOC to review rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and its recent guidelines. The USOPC further announced that it will not sanction Team USA athletes for demonstrating in support of racial and social justice in future Olympic games.

Quinn McKew, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 said:

“For too long, Olympic Athletes have been stripped of the power of their voice. The USOPC’s decision makes clear that equality and non-discrimination are fundamental rights, and that calling for them to be upheld should be a core Olympic value. This change demonstrates the global impact of the racial justice movement in the US this year and affirms that freedom of expression and the right to protest is necessary and ever present in our public discourse’’

Historically, athletes have faced sanctions and disciplinary action, for protesting or demonstrating during the Olympic Games. As recently as last year, the USOPC sanctioned two US athletes, hammer thrower Gwen Berry for raising a fist, and fencer Race Imboden for kneeling in protest of US racial injustice at the 2019 Pan American Games, resulting in 12-month probations by the USOPC. This move by the USOPC comes at a time when the conversation on protest in other professional sport spheres in the US has started to shift.  The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has made calls for racial justice a key focus of their basketball season in 2020, and even the National Footbal League (NFL) is now permitting protest actions by players that had been previously banned.

In 2014, the then United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association, noted that ‘private multilateral bodies, such as the IOC are not exempt from their responsibility to respect, if not promote, universally recognized human rights[1]’.  ARTICLE 19 understands that the IOC has been conducting a consultation with athletes across the world for a revision of rule 50. The IOC is yet to make progressive changes.

As we approach next year’s Tokyo summer Olympic Games, we call on the International Olympic Committee to amend rule 50 (2) of the Olympic Charter so that it is compatible with international human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and association. The right of Olympic athletes to peacefully demonstrate or openly comment on the situation of human rights in host countries or on other countries must be upheld.

[1] p.9, para 31

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