Don’t Silence Olympians Standing Against Injustice

Target: Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee

Goal: Lift ban on peaceful protests by athletes during Olympic Games.

Controversy came during an Olympic trials event when one of the qualifying athletes, hammer thrower Gwen Berry, turned away from the flag and placed a shirt over her head while the national anthem played. In a statement, the long-time activist said, “My purpose and my mission is bigger than sports. I’m here to represent those who died due to systemic racism. That’s the important part. That’s why I’m going. That’s why I’m here today.” The usual debate and outrage swirled in the wake of the event, which is part of a broader question for the Olympic Games themselves. Should athletes retain their freedom of speech and their right to speak out against injustices around the world at this global gathering?

Despite claims to the contrary, protests have long been a tradition of the Olympics. At the 1968 Olympics, for example, two track-and-field medalists marked this tumultuous time by raising their fists in a symbol of Black solidarity while on the podium. In a separate event, a refugee from iron-fisted Soviet rule made her own quiet protest when she received a medal. Over a decade later, both the United States and the Soviet Union would mount independent boycotts of Olympic Games due to political strife. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself even once banned South African participation because of the country’s inequitable treatment of athletes.

Despite this long and complex history, the Committee still stands firm in its wholesale ban on protests, citing “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”  The Olympics are supposed to represent the best of humanity and peaceful coexistence. Yet this ideal can never be reached if critical problems in the world are swept under the rug and ignored, nor if the voices of the human beings representing their countries are suppressed.

Sign the petition below to urge the IOC to stop stifling its athletes.


Dear Mr. Bach,

The world is in the midst of a pandemic, and you have not ignored this issue of global consequence. Why, then, have you remained so steadfast in denying the athletes representing the IOC and the world their voices in other matters of urgent concern? The Rule 50 statute on protests is both wrong-headed and hypocritical.

This committee itself once took a strong stand against Apartheid by prohibiting South Africa’s participation in an entire Olympics. Since an Irish athlete’s spirited protest near the turn of the last century, the Olympics have remained a frequent source of political demonstration by athletes and often by whole countries. The athletes and the people will have their say, and they should have this peaceful international platform to do so. Think of the impact such stands could have made at the 1936 Olympics hosted in Nazi Germany. Or consider how the tragic events in Mexico City may have unfolded differently if voices of reform and change had not been willfully suppressed.

This planet is not a utopia, but the least we can do for each other is listen. Please do not deprive the world of this powerful tool of peace on the grandest global stage of all.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Pixabay

One Comment

  1. Robert Ortiz says:

    They need to be heard and taken seriously. Silence = death.

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