LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The political neutrality of the Olympics would be undercut if an athlete took a knee in protest on the medal podium at this year’s Tokyo Games, IOC President Thomas Bach said Friday.
One day after the International Olympic Committee published guidelines specifying which type of protests are prohibited in venues and medal ceremonies, Bach added his support.
“They (the Olympics) are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends,” Bach said to an audience that included the heads of international sports federations. “Our political neutrality is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be.”
Bach robustly defended two long-standing Olympic Charter rules in a 25-minute speech. Rule 50 prohibits any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in Olympic areas. Rule 40 restricts an athlete’s ability to promote his or her own sponsors at a time when many of them receive a huge amount of attention.
Taking a knee, making hand gestures with political meaning, and refusing to respect fellow medalists on the podium are highlighted as “divisive disruption” in the new guidelines.
Recent examples of such protests have been seen at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the swimming world championships and the Pan-American Games.
Athletes copying the iconic raised fist salutes by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics could be sent home from Tokyo as part of three potential rounds of disciplinary action — by their team, their sport, and the IOC.
Bach cautioned that “the eyes of the world will be on the athletes and the Olympic Games” in Tokyo.
The protest guidelines — which allow athletes to express political opinions on their social media accounts — were formally approved by the IOC Athletes’ Commission. That panel rarely takes a different view from the Bach-chaired IOC executive board.
The Athletes’ Commission has also advised competitors against acting independently to challenge Rule 40 or support commercially-run sports events organized outside the Olympic system.
“Our solidarity-based model is not for sale,” Bach said Friday.
The IOC has long argued that promising exclusivity to Olympic sponsors — including Coca-Cola, Intel and Visa — maintains the value of those deals to ensure more money is available for distribution to games organizers, sports and national Olympic bodies.
Revenue was $5.6 billion from television and commercial deals in a four-year cycle tied to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Bach warned against a “purely profit-driven” IOC finance model.
The current system, which limits an athlete’s personal earning potential, helped ensure an Olympics with 33 sports in Tokyo and teams from all 206 national Olympic bodies, whose travel and accommodations costs are covered, he said.
More than 1,600 athletes worldwide are getting Olympic scholarships to train.
“With our values of peace, unity and solidarity, we stand in sharp contrast to the zeitgeist of our times,” said Bach, identifying “divisions, of nationalism and of discrimination.”