The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has said it will not sanction athletes for demonstrating at the Olympics and Paralympics, after the Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice called for the end of the prohibition of peaceful demonstrations by team members at the Games.
A 44-member Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice was established by the USOPC in August.
The Council comprises of members of the Athletes’ Advisory Council (AAC), national governing bodies and the US Olympians and Paralympians Association (USOPA).
The Council's leadership team was tasked with developing recommendations with the aim of eradicating social injustice and cultivating change through strengthened athlete voices, with a series of steering committees contributing.
A steering committee on protests and demonstrations was among those set up, featuring John Carlos, who was removed from the 1968 Mexico Olympics after protesting alongside Tommie Smith.
Fencer Race Imboden, who was placed on a 12-month probation after taking the knee during a medal ceremony at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games, joined Carlos.
The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice has determined that Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Section 2.2 "violate athletes’ rights to free speech and freedom of expression."
The Council has suggested amendments be made which "distinguish between human rights/social justice protests and instances of hate speech, racist propaganda, and discriminatory remarks aimed at eliminating the rights and dignity of historically marginalised and minoritised populations".
The recommendation says the "latter three items should be clearly framed as "divisive disruptions."
Recommendations include removing "any coded or suggestive language targeting the rights of specific social groups, including language aimed at silencing racially minoritised members (such as Black athletes) of the Olympic and Paralympic community (e.g., the usage of the word “kneeling” in the IOC Rule 50 Guidelines)."
The group says a no-punishment policy should be established for protests and demonstrations that are aimed at promoting human rights and social justice initiatives and advancing the human rights mission of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements.
The Council also calls for full transparency to be provided regarding the process of determining amendments to Rule 50 and IPC Section 2.2, including addressing any feedback that was not considered for such amendments.
At present, Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
Recommendations include the establishment of an independent regulatory body charged with reviewing instances of and determining consequences for "divisive disruptions" to the Games.
The majority of the regulatory body should be comprised of independent personalities with no ties to the International Olympic Committee or International Paralympic Committee, as well as National Olympic and Paralympic Committees.
Former Olympic and Paralympic athletes should be represented to a sufficient degree, it was recommended.
The Council says the voices and input of athletes should be at the centre of decision-making processes and rule reviews, such as revision to Rule 50 and IPC Section 2.2, with particular emphasis on athletes who belong to historically marginalised and minoritised populations.
The adoption of an Eighth Principle of Olympism focused specifically on human rights has also been suggested.
“The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice provided its recommendation to the USOPC, NGBs, IOC and IPC in an effort to show the power and duty athletes have to build a more inclusive world through sport,” said Moushaumi Robinson, 2004 Olympic gold medalist, AAC leadership member and chair of the Council.
“The Council believes the diversity of Team USA athletes is our strength, and that this recommendation can be a catalyst for change.”
Proposals were also made to the USOPC and for governing bodies in the United States.
These include lifting any penalties or probations for athletes who have participated in protests or demonstrations aimed at advancing human rights and racial and social justice initiatives, educating athletes on the USOPC’s stance and consequences that come with breaching rules.
Continued USOPC and governing body support for Olympic and Paralympic athletes advancing human rights and social justice initiatives has been requested through the allocation of resources and providing visibility, as well as offering opportunities for education and engagement on issues of systemic injustices.
The Council called for the organisations to demonstrate support for athletes by passing immediately a no-consequence policy for athletes whose protest or demonstration is aimed at advancing human rights and racial and social justice initiatives.
The USOPC has now confirmed it will not penalise athletes who protest or demonstrate.
"The USOPC values the voices of Team USA athletes and believes that their right to advocate for racial and social justice, and be a positive force for change, absolutely aligns with the fundamental values of equality that define Team USA and the Olympic and Paralympic movements," said USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland.
"We thank the athlete-led Council for their thoughtful recommendations and look forward to continued collaboration on this important topic with the Council and the international community."
The USOPC says it will continue to work with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), IPC, AAC, national governing bodies, respective athlete groups and National Olympic Committees around the world to shape a fair and effective policy.
This includes participating in the IOC Athletes' Commission’s ongoing consultation with athletes from across the world over the issue of Rule 50.
The IOC Athletes' Commission’s has launched a survey to gauge athletes' opinions on protests at the Olympics and to come up with ways they can express their views "while respecting the Olympic spirit and the neutrality of the Games".
Athletes in countries such as Australia and Canada have signalled their opposition to protests on the podium or on the field of play at the Games.
The recommendations can be read in full here.