The Olympic Committee’s ban on Black Lives Matter clothing and what it means for athlete protests

As the world prepares for the start of the Tokyo Olympics, one thing many might not take note of is the lack of Black Lives Matter statement clothing.

While it may seem like one has little to do with the other, the BLM product ban came as the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission recommended increasing opportunities for athletes to express themselves during races. Olympic Games, including adapting the Olympic Oath to include messages of inclusion. and approved words for collective messages in the Olympic Village and on athlete clothing.

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So why was this phrase chosen?

In early May, the IOC Athletes ‘Commission made it clear that it would not adopt the phrase Black Lives Matter, following recommendations on Rule 50 and Athletes’ Expression, stating that they “fully support the freedom of phrase, “but words that are approved for use – including peace, respect, solidarity, inclusion and equality – none are race specific.

The IOC updated its Rule 50 in July, which banned demonstrations or political demonstrations during the Games, and it now allows athletes to “express their views” when speaking to the media in areas. mixed and in press conferences, in interviews and team meetings, through traditional, digital and social media, and on the playing field before the competition, as long as it is not targeted or during the national anthem or the introduction of another athlete or team.

In making its decisions, the organization carried out a quantitative study which found that “a clear majority of athletes said it was not appropriate to demonstrate or express their point of view on the playing field. (70% of respondents), during official ceremonies (70% of respondents) or on the podium (67% of respondents).

The statement continued, “This position was also widely expressed during the IOC IOC Qualitative Consultation. The argument heard by the IOC Board of Directors was the need to ensure that athletes and their special moments are respected, and that the focus of the Olympic Games remains on celebrating athlete performance, sport and Olympic values. However, some athlete representatives took a different point of view, using freedom of speech and freedom of speech as an argument, and felt that this outweighed the other arguments.

The IOC IOC said it took both points of view into account and consulted experts in human rights and sports law. The organization declined to comment further on the decisions.

“The T-shirt, the statement, it’s extremely powerful,” said Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, which made her own statements in support of racial justice last year. “The statement is powerful in itself. The larger the display the more dynamic, authentic, informed, engaged and unified by players. It’s the statement, the T-shirt and who’s wearing it.

Antjuan Seawright, a CBS News writer and commentator who owns a public relations and advertising firm and has spoken out on the issue, called the IOC’s decision “unfortunate.”

“We hear the words freedom of speech and freedom of speech, but the point is that in America, where a number of athletes come from, it is essential that they are able to provide solutions,” he said, addressing the need to strike a balance between regulations and players’ freedom of speech.

Gwendolyn Berry looks away as DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen represent the national anthem after the final of the women & # x002019; s hammer launch at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon.  Price won, Andersen was second and Berry was third.  Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Berry are among more than 150 educators, activists and athletes who signed a letter Thursday, July 22 urging the IOC not to punish participants who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games.  - Credit: Charlie Riedel / AP

Gwendolyn Berry looks away as DeAnna Price and Brooke Andersen perform the national anthem after the women’s hammer throw final at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon. Price won, Andersen was second and Berry was third. Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Berry are among more than 150 educators, activists and athletes who signed a letter Thursday, July 22, urging the IOC not to punish participants who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games. – Credit: Charlie Riedel / AP

Charlie Riedel / AP

Despite the steps the IOC’s IOC has taken to be accommodating on social justice – such as providing a platform called Athlete365 for athletes to discuss topics important to them – it has received negative reactions on social media for not not include Black Lives Matter among the approved. words or phrases for clothing.

“When you talk about 70% of the athletes, who are you talking about? Dr Harry Edwards, American sociologist, civil rights activist and co-creator of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, said, addressing the IOC study. “They didn’t say 70 percent of black athletes.”

“You need to dive deeper into this poll,” added Jackson of the WNBPA. “When you dive deeper, you then look at the demographics of the athletes who reacted to that. I’m not sure who was included in this poll, but I think if you look at the demographics and expand it to sport, race, and gender, it’ll tell you something different about where athletes stand on that question.

The IOC had not shared any other information on the demographics of the study.

Edwards, however, said he was “not surprised” by the IOC’s decision to exclude BLM clothing from the Games given their history, including “its brutal treatment of minority athletes from Jim Thorpe to Jesse Owens to [Tommie] Smith and [John] Carlos to Sha’Carri Richardson [whose one-month suspension over a positive marijuana test was a decision made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, not the IOC] to his lack of non-white leaders throughout his tenure in the Olympic movement – it all adds up to a portrait of what is a racist, right-wing, if not fascist, Olympic leadership organization in serious need of to be “reinvented” in the 21st century. “

Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and Olympic bronze medalist John Carlos made headlines when they both raised Black Power’s fists on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. They, along with Olympic silver medalist Peter Norman, also wore badges for the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an American organization founded by Smith, Carlos and Edwards in October 1967. The OPHR was created for protest racial segregation in the United States, South Africa and globally, as well as racism in sport in general. The now iconic podium event resulted in the suspension of the two athletes from the US team, expulsion from the Olympic Village, and the backlash was severe.

“The second most political international forum is the Olympics,” said Edwards. “The stage was not turned into a political platform in 1968 – it always has been.”

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their gloved fists after Smith received gold and Carlos won bronze for the 200-meter race at the Mexico City Summer Olympics.  - Credit: AP Image

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their gloved fists after Smith received gold and Carlos won bronze for the 200-meter race at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. – Credit: AP Image

AP Image

Amid protests in 2020 against the murder of George Floyd and the murder of Breonna Taylor by law enforcement, cities painted Black Lives Matter on the streets and murals. Some brands have also joined the movement. Nike and Adidas have made T-shirts for NBA, WNBA and MLS athletes. But the phrase will not reach the Olympic stage in Tokyo.

CBS’s Seawright believes athletes have more of a platform than even elected officials and says they have an obligation to get involved.

“Athletes have spoken throughout the history of our country,” he said. “Athletes have always been the spark plugs of change in this country to push for progress – Jackie Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Muhammad Ali. Social justice work should be no different from the delivery of social services. No different than donating money to a foundation.

Regarding the Olympics, Jackson said the IOC, including Black Lives Matter, would have been a time “to be on the right side of history” and that the cause is about humanity and standing up for what is right. .

“When did it become political? When did peaceful protests become political? ” she asked. “These three simple words aim to draw your attention to this systemic racism that has not been brought under control for centuries. These three words also call attention to the demand for equality and achievement for blacks and browns. “

As Seawright added, “The Olympics stage is the biggest stage an athlete can have outside of the sport they participate in and history has set a precedent for him to do so. It stifles progress and change in America in this demonstration to the world. I think at some point with this decision people will look back and say we could have done it in a different way. It has nothing to do with politics. I think it has everything to do with people. Black Lives Matter should be considered a pro statement. “

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