LeBron James‘ company has hit out at an Olympic ban on political protests during medal ceremonies, saying it will ‘silence athletes’.
The Uninterrupted, a media company set up by James and long-term business partner Maverick Carter, criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Rule 50 in a tweet on Tuesday.
‘Rule 50 is a rule in the Olympic Charter that bans any kind of demonstration and prohibits any opinionated political, religious or racial propaganda at the Olympic site in 2021,’ the first of a series of slides read.
‘The only time an athlete is able to speak freely is at press conferences and to the media, but not on the Olympic podium when the world is watching.
‘Simply put, we see this as a way of silencing voices, and as advocates for Athlete empowerment, we take a stand against it.
‘Sport is not neutral. When athletes speak up – whether from a stadium, gymnasium, or track – they start conversations and things change.
‘Give athletes the chance to show up fully and to make change.’
LeBron James’ company has hit out at an Olympic ban on political protests during medal ceremonies, saying it will ‘silence athletes’. Pictured: James at the London 2012 Olympic Games [File photo]
The message came just days ahead of the start of the delayed 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The international sporting event is going ahead despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has already seen a number of athletes test positive after arriving in Japan.
In July, the IOC updated its guidelines on athlete’s freedom of expression at the Tokyo Games, prohibiting any form of ‘demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda’ during official ceremonies, competition and in the Olympic village.
The guidelines were approved following two reviews in 18 months, led by the IOC Athletes Committee, including a survey of 3,547 athletes.
The governing body said the new rules would give athletes ‘further clarity’ on the ‘wide range of opportunities available to them to express their views.’
Under the rules, athletes can make a political gesture before the start of a competition or while they or their team are being introduced, provided the gesture meets certain criteria.
It must be consistent with the ‘Fundamental Principles of Olympism’, cannot target a people, country or organization, cannot be disruptive and cannot be banned by the nation’s own Olympic committee or federation.
‘When expressing their views, athletes are expected to respect the applicable laws, the Olympic values and their fellow athletes. It should be recognized that any behavior and/or expression that constitutes or signals discrimination, hatred, hostility or the potential for violence on any basis whatsoever is contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism,’ the IOC said.
Any athlete deemed to have breached the guidelines could face a disciplinary hearing.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has said it would not ban athletes who protest during trials, nor seek to discipline them if they did so during the Games.
However, it did warn athletes that they could still face punishment from the IOC.
The UK women’s soccer team have said they will take the knee before kickoff in their opening game against Chile to demonstrate against racism
‘We want to show to everyone this is something serious,’ defender Demi Stokes said. ‘What a way to do it, on an Olympic stage.’
Other teams are expected to follow suit, continuing the gesture which has become a regular sight at matches since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer.
FIFA, soccer’s governing body, has allowed players to take the knee, a gesture which has been divisive among fans, some of whom have booed during the protest.
In a statement reported by ABC news, FIFA said it ‘believes in freedom of speech and opinion, and this applies to players, coaches, officials and any other person or organization within the scope of FIFA’s activities’
World Athletics boss and two-time Olympic gold medalist Sebastian Coe has also backed athlete’s right to protest, saying: ‘If an athlete chooses to take the knee on a podium then I’m supportive of that’.
However soccer and athletics, which have a large number of successful black athletes, are seen as having more progressive governing bodies than some of the other sports represented at the Games.
In July, the IOC updated its guidelines on athlete’s freedom of expression at the Tokyo Games, prohibiting any form of ‘demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda’ during official ceremonies, competition and in the Olympic village
Husain al-Musallam, president of swimming’s governing body FINA, said the pool deck must remain ‘a sanctity for sport and nothing else,’ where there should be ‘respect for the greater whole, not the individual’.
FINA’s restrictions on swimmers have already made headlines ahead of this year’s Games when it banned a swimming cap favored by black athletes. The decision is now under review following huge backlash.
Lawyers and sports officials have expressed concern that the ability of each governing body to set rules on athlete protests within the IOC guidelines could create a situation where some athletes have more rights than others.
‘There is not really a “one size fits all” solution,’ IOC president Thomas Bach said last week when asked about the issue.
Despite the renewed discussion this year around athlete’s protests, demonstrations at the Olympics are nothing new.
For more than 100 years, athletes have used the Olympic stage to make political statements, with one of the first occurrences of athlete activism at the Games coming in 1906.
Irish track and field athlete Peter O’Connor intended to represent Ireland at the Athens Games but new rules implemented that year meant only athletes nominated by an Olympic Committee could compete.
Ireland did not have an Olympic committee so O’Connor was claimed as a British athlete, enraging O’Connor who scaled a 20-foot flagpole in the stadium to wave a green flag with the words ‘Ireland forever’ written in Irish.
O’Connor was criticized but not punished for his actions and waved the flag again after winning gold in three competitions two days later.
Perhaps the most famous Olympic protest came in 1968, when American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists on the podium during the national anthem at the Mexico City Games, in protest over racial injustice in the United States.
In 1968, American sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raised black-gloved fists on the podium during the national anthem at the Mexico City Games, in protest over racial injustice in the United States. Co-medalist Peter Norman (left), of Australia, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the ceremony in solidarity
Smith and Carlos were harshly punished for their stance, which came at a flashpoint for U.S. race relations just months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The two athletes were evicted from the Olympic village, suspended from the U.S. team and sent home.
Peter Norman, their Australian co-medalist, who wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the ceremony in solidarity with Smith and Carlos was snubbed by the Australian Olympics team for the 1972 Games despite qualifying.
The same tournament saw Věra Čáslavská, a Czechslovak gymnast, taking a stand against the Soviet regime by turning her head away from the flag of the Soviet Union during a medal ceremony.
Repercussions were harsh, for Čáslavská, who retired after the Games. Banned from coaching, she worked as a cleaner for two decades until Communism fell and she was welcomed back into the gymnastics world.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter said the U.S. would boycott the Moscow Games after the Soviet Union refused to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
More recently, in 2004, Iranian world judo champion refused to fight Israeli Ehud Vaks at the Athens Games.
He said the refusal was in sympathy with ‘the suffering of the people of Palestine’.
Iran has refused to recognize Israel since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and has been banned from international judo competitions for allegedly pressuring players to refuse to compete against Israeli athletes.
The Iran Judo Foundation has denied pressuring athletes and the ban remains in force, preventing Iranian judokas, many considered medal-contenders, from competing in the Tokyo Games.
James himself, who is currently promoting his new film Space Jam, will not be participating in the Tokyo Games.
He played in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Games, winning bronze in 2004 and then gold in both 2008 and 2012.
He cofounded The Uninterrupted in 2014 after writing an open letter to the readers of Sports Illustrated explaining his decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers after playing for the Miami Heat.
James and business partner Carter said they set up the company to give athletes the chance to express themselves beyond press conferences, where they are subject to interruption by questions, hence the company’s name.
Source: Daily Mail