IOC prepared to abandon principle of ‘sport beyond politics’

By Evaristus Iipumbu

THOMAS  Bach  risks  turning  the  Tokyo  Olympics  into  a  series  of  scandalous political actions and finally  killing the Olympic movement.

The concept of the revival of the Olympic Games, proposed at the end of the 19th century by the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was based on the ideas of renouncing military and political confrontation between countries and promoting world peace. Therefore, the rejection of attempts to politicise the Olympic Movement was a basic principle of the Olympic movement.

The Olympic Charter, adopted at the International Sports Congress in Paris in 1894, explicitly prohibited any propaganda during the Olympics. There were severe penalties for violation of this requirement, including lifelong suspension from the Games.

Article 50.2 of the Olympic Charter:

“Any demonstration or propaganda of a political, religious or racial nature shall be prohibited at Olympic sites, competitions and other Olympic zones”.

But as the Olympics became a popular spectacle, broadcasted around the world, the Olympic stadiums were increasingly the scene of political action and demonstrations by athletes, who were thus attempting to demonstrate their attitude to events in full view of the entire planet.

In 1956, at the opening of the Games in Melbourne, Hungarian athletes, protesting the Soviet invasion of their country, refused to march under the flag of the Hungarian People’s Republic, replacing it with the national flag of 1918. In 2004 in Athens, Iran’s favourite judo competitor, Arash Miresmaeli, refused to fight an Israeli athlete “in solidarity with the people of Palestine”. In 2014 in Sochi, Ukrainian skiers refused to go to the start due to the fact that the IOC prohibited them from wearing black bandages as a sign of mourning for the “celestial hundred” who died in Kiev.

In 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, an Ethiopian stayer, Fayez Liles, at the finish of the marathon, to which he came in second, threw up his cross-arms, allegedly handcuffed, protesting against political repression in the homeland. At the opening of the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Andrei Fomochkin, a member of the Belarusian delegation, entered the stadium with a Russian tricolour, expressing support for Russia, which was excluded from the competition.

This is not a complete list of political demonstrations that took place at the Olympics. Not always sanctioned because of the lack of clear criteria for the relevance of actions to political action. On the other hand, such actions invariably generated a great deal of media attention and scandals that damaged the reputation of the IOC.

In January, the IOC Executive Committee clarified the rules for the application of Article 50, clearly stating that athletes are categorically prohibited from doing during the Tokyo Games. Political opinion may not be expressed in any way. They should not wear political symbols, including bandages and logos, political gestures and tattoos may not be expressed in any way. Athletes can’t get down on one knee by reproducing the “Colin Capernic Gesture” and in any way break the ceremonial protocol.

The head of the IOC, Thomas Bach, has repeatedly stressed that there is and should be no place for political manifestations at the Olympic Games. IOC President Thomas Bach: “I ask everyone to respect the main mission of the Olympic Games. We must be politically neutral, I ask that the political neutrality of the Games be respected”.

However, the plan of the IOC to avoid politics at the Tokyo Games was shaken by the campaign against racism and other forms of discrimination that have been raging in the West since late May. Since June, the IOC leadership has received several petitions from influential sporting bodies alleging that the right to freedom of expression of athletes should not be restricted under the current circumstances.

The United States, where the major commercial partners of the Olympics are registered, has joined the pressure on the IOC. With this in mind, changes to the Olympic Charter are imminent. At least, Bach has already announced that the issue of adjusting the rules for the application of Article 50 has been referred to the IOC Athletes’  Commission,  which  is  to  discuss  it  with  the  sports  community  and prepare appropriate proposals.

However, the IOC risks releasing a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle. After all, the right to express their position in the Olympic stadiums will be demanded by those who consider themselves to be disadvantaged on ethnic, religious, social, property or other grounds. Because of the precedent that has been set, it will not be possible to refuse them. And the Olympic Games will turn into a continuous series of demonstrations and actions of supporters of the independence of Tibet and Kurdistan, the return of Crimea to Ukraine, by LGBTQ+, Greta Tunberg’s fans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anti-vaccination, and other aggrieved.

Each such intervention would be accompanied by counter-actions by those who did not agree, and instead of observing the turmoil of the competition, the world would be witnessing incessant scandals, conflicts and boycotts.

Is this really what the West wants to see? Or is the aim, after all, to finally split the Olympic movement, which is already in crisis, caused, inter alia, by the double standards of the IOC and WADA towards Russian and Western athletes?