Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the two American athletes who made the protest gesture on the podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico, are among the more than 150 athletes and activists who signed a letter on Thursday urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to punish participants who demonstrate during competitions at the Tokyo Games.
The five-page letter asks the IOC not to penalize athletes for kneeling or raising their fists, as Smith and Carlos did. Gwen Berry, a 32-year-old American hammer thrower, is a leading proponent of the petition. Berry has announced his intention to use his Olympic platform to point out racial inequality in America. During the trials, the United States selection tests for the Games, he turned away from the flag when the national anthem sounded while he was on the podium.
The IOC has made changes to its Rule 50, which prohibits political demonstrations at the Games, and will allow such protest gestures in the facilities provided they occur before the start of the competition. The players from five teams that started the Olympic soccer tournament on Wednesday knelt before the games.
But the IOC did not lift the ban on demonstrating on the podium and delegated part of the decision-making on punishment to the Olympic committees of each country. “We do not believe that the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right or to racial and social justice in global sports,” stated in the letter posted on the website of the Muhammad Ali Center and also signed. by the daughter of the legendary boxer, Laila Ali, four times world champion in this same sport.
The letter questions the IOC’s position that the Olympics should remain neutral, arguing that neutrality is never neutral: “Staying neutral means remaining silent, and remaining silent means supporting ongoing injustice.” The letter calls into question the survey among athletes carried out by the IOC Athletes Commission and which concludes that there is broad support for Rule 50. “The report does not provide information on racial and ethnic demographics or on the method used in the investigation and the measures taken to strengthen the validity and confidentiality of the data ”.
The largest representative sample of the 3,547 athletes surveyed comes from China (14%), where the protests were overwhelmingly frowned upon by those who responded to the questions. American athletes were the second largest contingent to respond (7%), followed by athletes from Japan (6%).
Also among those signing the letter are fencer Race Imboden, who, along with Berry, was subjected to a one-year investigation period by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee for demonstrating on the podium at the Pan American Games in 2019. .
Also signed was Harry Edwards, the activist who organized the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led to the gestures in Mexico City by Smith and Carlos.
The IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organizers have rectified their decision to ban their social media teams from posting images of anti-racist gestures by members of the Chilean, Great Britain, United States, Sweden and New Zealand women’s soccer teams in the United States. matches played on Wednesday.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.