To stand or not to stand? That is one of the questions being put to the Irish team a year in advance of the postponed Tokyo Games around their right or otherwise to protest or demonstrate inside the Olympic arena.
It’s the same question fast moving to the top of the Olympic agenda in recent weeks, even with the Games still over a year away, in light of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently updating Rule 50, one of 61 in their 105-page Olympic Charter, which effectively outlaws any sort of protest in or around the Games.
Several national Olympic committees have already indicated their intention the challenge this, and now the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) have begun a similar process, opening the discussion to explore ways of “maintaining, adapting or removing” the IOC’s Rule 50.
The OFI’s Athletes’ Commission, chaired by 2010 Winter Olympian Shane O’Connor, are seeking the views of the wider Irish Olympic team membership, while also outlining improved ways to take a stand against discrimination.
“We were unequivocally united in our condemnation of discrimination in both sport and our wider society,” says O’Connor, speaking of the mood at the OFI’s Athletes’ Commission meeting last week. “The OFI Athletes’ Commission condemns in the strongest possible terms all forms of discrimination and we are committed to doing what we can in whatever small way possible to raise awareness of this issue and to support our athletes in taking a stand against discrimination in all its forms.”
On the matter of Rule 50 O’Connor says: “We acknowledge that the issue of Rule 50 is an incredibly challenging discussion that evokes strong emotions and is clearly a divisive topic however we do not believe it is appropriate to intrinsically link athlete concerns on Rule 50 with the issue of discrimination.
“Discrimination is a societal problem that does not just impact sport or athletes and as a societal problem it runs deep. We do not believe simply removing Rule 50 will address this problem with any significance. There are many different drivers for protest and it is our belief that challenge to Rule 50 must be discussed in its own right cognizant of the need for athletes to have their voice heard while addressing the risks for the potential abuse of our right to free speech.”
All Team Ireland athletes will soon be contacted on the matter: “We want to better understand how we can support our athletes whether they are directly impacted by discrimination or wish to take a stand against it. We also want to discuss how we can safeguard future generations of athletes from having to endure discrimination.
“We will host an open discussion on Rule 50, to explore the views of the athlete body around challenges with maintaining, adapting or removing it. With your support we will work directly the OFI, Sport Ireland and relevant government departments to drive discussions and represent athlete views and to help shape anti-discrimination and inclusion programmes in sport. And we will work directly with the OFI and the IOC Athletes’ commission to represent to the IOC your views in relation to Rule 50.”
Updated in January, the IOC Charter, and specifically Rule 50, is drawn up under the IOC’s own Athletes’ Commission guidelines, designed in part to protect athletes from potentially divisive protests, and help keep some sort of safe moral ground. Such protests are defined as “displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands”, “gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling” and “refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol”; any athletes who fail to comply face disqualification.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, however, several other sporting bodies, including Fifa and the NFL, have already softened their stance on peaceful protests, especially around the taking of the knee. IOC president Thomas Bach also admitted earlier this month that their own Athletes’ Commission will “have dialogue with athletes around the world to explore different ways for how Olympic athletes can express their support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter in a dignified way”.
Germany, New Zealand and the United States have also outlined some concerns around Rule 50 in its current form, while the Global Athlete group, set up to collectively address the balance of power between athletes and administrators, has called on the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to immediately abolish Rule 50, claiming it breaches athletes human rights.