The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently announced that athletes will not be allowed to protest on medal podiums or field of play. I’m not convinced that Olympic officials have the right to make this decision. When the decision pertains to the health of athletes and the organization of events, then their word is the law. However, freedom of assembly has nothing to do with sports.
Many countries have freedom of speech, but less specify freedom of assembly. There are over 20 countries that have this particular right and all of them participate in the Summer Olympics. The officials made this decision, seemingly, in response to Black Lives Matter protests, which have grown significantly in the last year. However, consider the fact that in the last year there have been massive civil rights protests worldwide.
For example, the women’s strike protests in Poland. Since October 2020, women in Poland have been at the forefront of the fight for their bodily autonomy. I won’t say that no one in the United States is talking about this, because that’s not true. However, understandably, the strike has not been top news. When you compete at the Olympics, you’re given a rare chance to address the entire world. Think of the support that could be generated for important civil rights issues if people were allowed to use this world stage.
On a recent episode of The Right Time with Bomani Jones, Bomani Jones had this to say about the IOC’s decision, “You guys are setting yourselves up for disaster. You have decided that you are going to create martyrs.” Bomani goes on to make the point that, after someone has won the gold medal, there isn’t much for them to lose. The IOC could take the physical medal away from the athlete, but the entire world would already know that you’ve won. People are going to stand up for what is right and what is important to them regardless.
If the Olympics are being held in a country that does not allow freedom of assembly, then they can deal with their own athletes, and other countries can deal with their athletes in accordance with their laws. I recognize Olympic officials have a tough job. It has to be difficult setting rules when you’re trying to accommodate over 200 countries with different laws. I am simply suggesting that they make their lives easier and keep the decision making to athletics.