Why did Tokyo Ban Protests at the Olympics 2021?

TL;DR (4 minute read)

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has voted to uphold a rule banning all political and cultural protest during the Tokyo Olympics this summer
  • The Olympics are trying to maintain the atmosphere of competition and a strict focus on the events
  • The committee is trying to protect athletes from exposure to propaganda and opinions that could create controversy
  • The IOC has offered alternate ways to protest which won’t compromise the integrity of the Olympics

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now set in 2021, are right around the corner. The event runs from July 23rd to August 8th of this year with all the classic past events alongside new events including skateboarding, surfing, baseball, and more. However, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has been in the news for non-sporting reasons. Rule 50, a rule the IOC created that banned all political or religious propaganda or demonstrations during the Olympics, was upheld for the events in Tokyo as well as the 2022 Winter games in Beijing. This ban is in effect when athletes are inside stadiums, on podiums, or at ceremonies. The IOC also stated publicly that athletes who engage in protests or demonstrations could be subject to “punishments”’ decided by the committee. Considering the events of the last year including multiple cultural movements such as Black Lives Matter and the ongoing COVID pandemic, people assumed demonstrations/protests such as kneeling or raising fists would make its way in the quadrennial sporting event; it won’t be. Here’s why:

Reasons For the Ban:

  1. The Integrity of the Games
  2. The Athletes

1: The Integrity of the games

Rule 50 directly states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The rule was implemented for several reasons. The IOC was driven to prevent external issues from affecting the normal Olympic atmosphere. 

(Olympics site)

Although cultural movements and political jargon are a big part of the global society, the IOC believed they could compromise the integrity, competitive nature, and general peace and unity that the Olympics are about. The Olympics are a peaceful gathering of the world that set aside all external affairs and focus on competing and having fun in events; it’s understandable that the IOC didn’t want that to change and therefore upheld rule 50.

2: The Athletes

The IOC wanted to maintain the Olympic atmosphere. However, they didn’t decide without consulting the most important part of the Olympics, the athletes. According to the IOC, 70% of athletes who were surveyed said that “it wasn’t appropriate” within stadiums and at ceremonies while 67% said the same thing, except they were considering protest on podiums. The consensus between athletes was the same as the IOC. Athletes, more than anyone, care about keeping the Olympics about the sporting events and not compromising the sentiment towards the events that they train years for. The IOC are also looking out for the athletes, namely their public images. In a statement, the committee stated that “It is important to protect athletes from the potential consequences of being placed in a position where they may be forced to take a public position on a particular domestic or international issue, regardless of their beliefs.”Athletes and the committee seem to agree that controversy over politics or culture could negatively influence the games we all enjoy.

(Cartus/Nicola Urquhart)

What CAN athletes do to protest?

Many athletes use their large platforms, such as the media and mass televised coverage of their sports, to spread their messages and protest their beliefs. A sport where we saw this a lot was last summer at the NBA’s “bubble”, a quarantined area in Orlando, Florida where the NBA continued their regular season and playoffs safely during the peak of the coronavirus. In the aftermath of the BLM protests, players wore racially significant words on their jerseys, kneeled, raised fists, and even canceled games in protest of the racially unjust happenings in our country. 

(Undefeated/William C. Rhoden)

Although the Olympics aren’t allowing any of that, they are suggesting alternative ways athletes could promote unity at the games. The IOC have mentioned the ideas of holding long moments of silence during the opening and closing ceremonies in support of unity, and solidarity against discrimination. Furthermore, the committee encouraged using inclusive language when speaking publicly and even on apparel worn.


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