Many are calling for the global governing body's draconian law to be scrapped. The IOC has not yet stated what the punishment will be.

Boston Celtics players kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 6, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA.
Boston Celtics players kneel during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 6, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA. (Reuters)

Athletes who take a knee or lift a fist against racial inequality will be punished during the Olympics in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee has said.

It means acts of protests, like American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously did at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, would still risk punishment at the Tokyo Games this year.

The IOC's Rule 50 forbids any kind of "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" in venues and any other Olympic area and the Games body concluded the rule should be maintained following an athlete consultation.

Smith and Carlos were both expelled from the 1968 Olympics after their salute.

Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement protesting racial injustice, calls have increased in recent months for a change to the rule that would allow athletes to protest.

Many say the IOC need a wake up call as racism is not political, but societal.

Some international federation chiefs, including World Athletics' President Sebastian Coe, have said that athletes should have the right to make gestures of political protest during the Games.

READ MORE: Derek Chauvin is convicted in George Floyd's murder

At odds with the US

Upholding Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at the games, puts the IOC at odds with Olympic officials in the United States.

The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in December it will not take action if athletes raise their fists or kneel during the national anthem at their event trials before Tokyo.

The American Olympic body, which inducted Smith and Carlos into its Hall of Fame in 2019, eased its stance after athletes asked for the right to express themselves on racial and social justice issues.

While the USOPC guidelines allow athletes to wear apparel showing phrases such as “Black Lives Matter,” the language is more limited in the IOC guidance published Wednesday.

Approved words on T-shirts and elsewhere in Tokyo are “peace, respect, solidarity, inclusion, and equality,” the IOC said.

READ MORE: Seiko Hashimoto takes over as Tokyo Olympics president after sexism row

Punishment for political statements

The IOC's Athletes' Commission chief Kirsty Coventry, who led a review of the rule, said the majority of athletes consulted were against any protests within the fields of play or the podiums.

"I would not want something to distract from my competition and take away from that. That is how I still feel today," Coventry, a former Olympic swimming champion for Zimbabwe, said in an online presentation of the Rule 50 consultation results.

Coventry said there were a series of recommendations approved by the IOC's Executive Board on Wednesday, including providing clarity on sanctions, more information about Rule 50, a change of wording of the Olympic Oath with messages on inclusion, and producing athlete apparel with inclusive messaging.

When asked, however, if athletes would be punished in Tokyo for making political statements such as taking a knee on the podium in support of racial equality, Coventry said: "Yes that is correct."

"That is also because of the majority of athletes we spoke to. That is what they are requesting for," Coventry said.

The IOC's recommendations are the result of a consultation process that started in June 2020 and involved over 3,500 athletes.

The IOC said that 70 percent said it was “not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views” on the field of play or at the opening or closing ceremony.

The survey also showed 67 percent of respondents disapproved of podium demonstrations.

The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by a year due to the pandemic, kick off on July 23.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies