The History of Political Protests at the Olympic Games


In January of 2020 the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) laid out new pointers that banned competing athletes from making political, non secular, and ethnic demonstrations on the 2020 (+1) Summer season Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

The longstanding Rule 50 of the Olympic Constitution, which was instituted in 1975, already prohibited acts of protest, but it surely failed to offer a lot readability on what precisely constituted such an indication.

The brand new pointers are extra express, citing examples that embrace displaying political messaging in indicators or armbands (together with Black Lives Matter), kneeling, disrupting medal ceremonies, or making political hand gestures.

The Olympics “usually are not and must not ever be a platform to advance political or another divisive ends,” mentioned IOC President Thomas Bach. “Our political neutrality is undermined each time organizations or people try to make use of the Olympic Video games as a stage for their very own agendas, as reputable as they could be.”

There was pushback, nevertheless. “A lot being accomplished in regards to the protests. So little being accomplished about what we’re protesting about,” U.S. soccer participant Megan Rapinoe who wrote in an Instagram story. “We is not going to be silenced.”

In an IOC survey of three,547 Olympians, at the least 70 p.c of athletes said that it was “not applicable for athletes to reveal or specific their views” on the rostrum, subject of play, and throughout the Opening Ceremony.

But all through the 125-year historical past of the Olympic video games the storied occasion has been a profitable platform for protest:

1906: Within the first recorded Olympic protest, Irish lengthy jumper and silver medalist Peter O’Conner shimmied up the 20-foot flagpole throughout the medal ceremony to unfurl a inexperienced flag embroidered with a shamrock, harp and the phrases “Erin Go Bragh” (Eire ceaselessly) — the favored maxim of the Irish independence motion, writes the Washington Publish. O’Conner’s stunt garnered media protection in Britain and america on the subject of Irish House Rule, but his protest didn’t lead to any type of penalty.

Two days later he gained gold in three competitions, waving his inexperienced flag after every win.

1968: Maybe probably the most well-known protest got here on the Mexico Metropolis Olympics when American runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists in a Black Energy salute to focus on racial inequality whereas standing on the medal podium to obtain their respective gold and bronze medals. Silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, stood in solidarity with them, carrying an Olympic Undertaking for Human Rights badge throughout the ceremony. The silent protest successfully ruined all three athletes’ profession, with the Individuals being despatched dwelling and Norman — regardless of qualifying for the 1972 Olympics — being neglected by the Australian Olympics committee.

Regardless of the backlash Carlos advised the New York Occasions in 2016, “I’m happy with what we did.”

“They by no means allow us to overlook that we have been improper,” Smith added. “We weren’t improper. We have been solely forward of our time.”

1968: Whereas Smith and Carlos’ raised fists stay an iconic image of protest, Věra Čáslavská, a Czechoslovakian gymnast, made comparable waves in Jap Europe when she took the Mexico Metropolis Video games as a chance to take a stance on the Soviet regime.

Two months previous to the video games, to quell the “Prague Spring” the Soviet Union had invaded Čáslavská’s homeland. Beforehand outspoken towards Soviet rule the gymnast was compelled to flee right into a forest for security. Utilizing a log as a makeshift steadiness beam and shoveling coal to toughen up her arms, Čáslavská’s objective for the Video games was to “sweat blood to defeat the invaders’ representatives.”

Controversially, the Czechoslovakian was compelled to share ground gold with Soviet athlete Larisa Petrik. Because the Czech and USSR flag have been raised aspect by aspect, Čáslavská subtly turned her head away.

“The motion was understated,” writes the BBC. “The ramifications have been large.”

Čáslavská retired after the Video games after successful 4 golds and two silver medals. Nonetheless, she was unable to reside a traditional life for the following twenty years as she was ostracized from gymnastics group and compelled to work as a cleaner. It was not till the autumn of Communism — over 20 years later — that Čáslavská was welcomed again into the fold.

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