Gwen Berry, Tommie Smith and John Carlos were among the more than 150 signatories on a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) demanding the organization to forgo punishment for competitors who protest during the Tokyo Games.
The letter was published Thursday, on eve of the opening ceremonies at the Olympics, and posted to the Muhammad Ali Center. The five-page note asks the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) not to sanction athletes for raising a fist or kneeling on the medal stand or during competitions, which would break the organization’s Rule 50.
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The IOC announced addendums to the protest rule, which would allow athletes to express themselves politically just prior to official events and with the media. But actions, like Smith and Carlos did in the 1968 Olympics, would be met with discipline.
“While we appreciate the strides the IOC/IPC made in promoting athlete expression, we do not believe the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right nor to racial and social justice in global sport,” the letter reads.
The letter states the IOC rules on protesting “contradict internationally-recognized commitments to human rights which states ‘everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
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“Protests and demonstrations in support of human rights and racial and social justice in particular are rooted in a desire to provide vulnerable members of our global community, particularly those who belong to groups that have historically been excluded, marginalized, or minoritized, with the human dignity that must be at the heart of international sport governance. As such, athlete expression on matters of human rights and racial/social injustice reflects a strong commitment to the rights of others and demonstrates a foundational morality rooted in respect for one another.”
The letter, additionally, takes issue with an athlete survey conducted by the IOC athletes’ commission (IOC AC) that found support for Rule 50.
“The report provides no information on racial/ethnic demographics or insights into the research instrument used and steps taken to strengthen the validity and trustworthiness of the data,” the letter says.
Berry, Smith and Carlos were among the notable signatories. Berry turned away from the American flag during the national anthem at U.S. Olympic trials last month.
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Race Imboden, an American fender who knelt at the podium of the 2019 Pan American Games, was among the athletes who signed the letter. He was disciplined for his actions before the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee changed their stance on protests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.