IOC Says No to Olympic Protests

I suggested the other day that the best protest against the Russian government’s terrible new anti-gay law is for a huge portion of the athletes at the Olympics to make a statement during the opening ceremonies. But the IOC is suggesting that they would not tolerate such an action:

The International Olympic Committee will likely stop any athlete who shows solidarity for LGBT Russians at the Sochi Games, GSN can reveal.

Gay Star News asked the global Olympic bosses what they were planning to do to ‘make sure the LGBT community in Russia can have a visible, proud, safe presence at the games’.

But the IOC replied the games were not the place for ‘political’ statements. Any participant who steps out of line may be punished, not by the Russians but by Olympic chiefs themselves…

Under rule 50 of the IOC’s charter: ‘No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.’

GSN had asked what the global Olympic chiefs thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies…

But their spokeswoman told us: ‘Regarding your suggestions, the IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration.

‘This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.

‘In any case, the IOC would treat each case individually and take a sensible approach depending on what was said or done.’

The message is clear, athletes, coaches and others who step out of line – for example by wearing rainbow pins – would not just risk arrest from Russians, but also punishment from the IOC.

This is a real problem. But it underscores the importance of having as many athletes as possible involved in any such protest. The more there are, the less likely any action can or would be taken by either the Russian government or the IOC. They can’t very well suspend or arrest hundreds of athletes.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017276335 Strewth

    I understand your concern, but you would be okay if hundreds of athletes started shouting anti-Semitic slogans to protest a host country’s hate speech laws? The IOC’s rules apply to all political statements.

  • schism

    They can’t very well suspend or arrest hundreds of athletes.

    Well, of course they can. Hell, they might even be stupid enough to do it. It’s not like the IOC was ever a bastion of ethics.

  • jamessweet

    I’m sympathetic to the IOC’s desire for the Olympics to remain apolitical, but there comes a point… would the IOC hold the Olympics in a country that still practiced slavery? And would they allow the athletes to make a statement against that?

  • tbp1

    I’ve completely given up on the Olympics. It frequently bankrupts the city, if not the entire nation, where it is held. People are forced from their homes and businesses to make way for building the facilities, which are often white elephants barely used afterwards. Profiteering and corruption run rampant at all levels. Instead of celebrating the achievements of the athletes (genuinely impressive, of course), it invariably turns into a jingoistic war to see which country can get the most medals, with nauseating displays of toxic patriotism, especially, sad to say, from the US fans. And now, this.

    As much I admire people who are really good at what they do (even if it’s something I’m not particularly interested in), for me the negatives of the Olympics far outweigh the positives.

    Not that I imagine anyone much cares what I think, and I’m not so delusional as to think anything will change anytime soon, but my $.02 worth. It felt good to vent just a bit.

  • whiskeyjack

    tpb1: You summed it up perfectly.

  • http://strangesally.wordpress.com/ SallyStrange

    I understand your concern, but you would be okay if hundreds of athletes started shouting anti-Semitic slogans to protest a host country’s hate speech laws?

    I understand your concern, but would you be okay if other commenters starting inventing ridiculous counterfactual hypothetical scenarios that would never ever ever happen, in a transparent attempt to deflect from moral outrage that is and should be at the center of the story?

  • Zugswang

    Hmm…so, there’s nothing wrong with a host country pushing a political agenda onto spectators, athletes, etc. but the IOC won’t tolerate the same from olympians? Makes perfect sense.

    Although I’ve come to expect this completely transparent BS from an organization like the IOC. The Olympics, for a long time, has been used as an excuse to deprive people of property and crush free expression, all while causing host countries to accumulate massive amounts of debt in order to pay for all of the events and ceremonies.

  • rory

    @2,

    Your analogy fails because it suggests that showing support for LGBT rights is somehow morally equivalent to making anti-Semitic remarks. There are plenty of ways to protest restrictions of speech which don’t produce splash damage, and yes, I would be fine with hundreds of athletes making such a protest.

    I wonder how the athletes who participated in the Berlin Olympics felt about their experience in retrospect. Did they regret it, or did they rationalize it on the grounds that whether or not they participated was unlikely to have had any effect on what Germany ultimately did?

  • tubi

    On page 66 of the Olympic Charter, one finds this:

    The National Government of the country of any applicant city must submit to the IOC a

    legally binding instrument by which the said government undertakes and guarantees that

    the country and its public authorities will comply with and respect the Olympic Charter.

    Earlier on in the Charter, on page 10:

    The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of

    practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which

    requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

    And on page 11:

    Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race,

    religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic

    Movement.

    As I read it, Russia has violated the legally binding agreement they presumably submitted to the IOC. Their right to even hold the Games is in question. At least among reasonable people. The IOC and the Russian government are not, by any measure, reasonable people.

    The Olympic Charter can be found here.

  • http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/ Quodlibet

    tubi @9, thanks for providing that information. Wish that the major media would engage in that sort of [easy!] research to get the facts. I agree, it seems that Russia is not qualified to host the Games.

    The Russian anti-gay laws are despicable, and the climate in Russia these days for LGBT people seems to be very dangerous; I’ve read several recent stories about gay people being attacked and beaten simply for being gay. As much as I wish that there could be some mass demonstration at the Games — whether by a simple show of solidarity, such as a rainbow pin, or even by a boycott on site, once everyone is there — I fear for the safety of LGBT athletes and their allies while in Russia. The Russian law enforcement won’t even protect their own citizens from physical attacks; will they protect a visitor/tourist/athlete?

    The whole thing is so sad.

  • Johnny Oizys

    Having the Olympics in a place with a horrible anti-gay law like Russia is a political fucking statement.

  • Loqi

    I bet Tommie Smith and John Carlos will say it is worth getting sanctioned.

  • savagemutt

    As much I admire people who are really good at what they do (even if it’s something I’m not particularly interested in), for me the negatives of the Olympics far outweigh the positives.

    You’re certainly not alone. Stories about the London Games were a real eye-opener for me. I’d never seen coverage about people losing their homes, civil rights being curtailed, etc. I don’t know if there was just more information about that stuff because it happened in an English speaking nation or if I just hadn’t been paying attention, but the IOC certainly lost my support.

    Well, actually they just lost an infrequent viewer. NBC’s coverage of the games is so jingoistic and maudlin that I rarely watched anyway.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    Q: When does wearing some small item of jewelry, or a particular pattern of clothing, become a political statement?

    A: When certain other people merely existing openly as who they are is itself made into a political statement by the laws of the jurisdiction in question.

    Howzabout we just stop holding these giant boondoggles altogether? (Yeah, I can wish). I will continue to “boycott” the Sochi Olympics as I’ve boycotted every other Olympics in my adult life — by doing my best to ignore the whole damn thing, with all its hypocritical hoopla. It helps that I don’t have either cable or broadcast TV.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000263140906 Donovan

    I understand your concern, but you would be okay if hundreds of athletes started shouting anti-Semitic slogans to protest a host country’s hate speech laws? The IOC’s rules apply to all political statements.

    Which is the price we pay every day for the freedom of speech. That people might use such a freedom to say things we don’t like is not, never was, and never will be a good reason to limit such a right. Should we cut the First Amendment to stop Fred Phelps? No, in case your stumped. We shouldn’t.

    I get your point, and I am even tempted to agree with you, but you are dangerously wrong, I think.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com Leo Buzalsky

    @7 Zugswang

    As I recall, though, the IOC had been saying that Russia’s law would not be enforced upon the spectators/participants…and then some Russian official claimed the IOC had no authority to make such a claim. The point, though, is that the IOC does not necessarily see “nothing wrong” with what Russian officials have said they will do. (From what tubi @9 reports, it’s actually in the IOC charter that the IOC is to have a problem.)

  • eric

    Tubi, those are great quotes. So good, in fact, that I think the correct way for athletes to support gay rights would be to hold up cards with those sections of the charter on them. Rainbow pins etc. may be more visually immediate, but how can the IOC kick an athlete out for holding up (a section of) the IOC charter?

  • cry4turtles

    Being LGBT in Russia now must by like the gay characters in “V”. They never know when it will be the last time they’ll see their loved ones.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    Political statements are a matter of opinion. Basic human rights are not.

    Shame on the IOC.

  • David C Brayton

    It would have been nice to see such outrage at the Beijing Olympics. China is well known for various and sundry human rights abuses. I wonder why Russia’s treatment of gays has raised such ire but China’s treatment of dissenting political thought didn’t.

  • doublereed

    I’m pretty sure the IOC has always been pretty selective about what constitutes “political” speech. And the whole Nazi sympathizer part of the IOC is kind of concerning.

    Yea, I think they’d arrest the athletes. But if they arrested like a hundred athletes… that would be kind of an awesome political scandal…

  • marcus

    Gregory @ 19 Nailed it!

  • eric

    I wonder why Russia’s treatment of gays has raised such ire but China’s treatment of dissenting political thought didn’t.

    I would guess the reason is psychological immediacy, mainly.

    1. China did not pass a new draconian law punishing dissidents ahead of the olympics, and Russia just did. So its in people’s minds in a way that China’s treatment of dissidents isn’t.

    2. Many of the athletes probably are, or have personal contact with, gays. This is probably not the case with western athletes and chinese political dissidents.

    Those are not rational reasons to treat one human rights issue with more attention than the other, but I think they are very normal human reasons. We are not all saints, able to see that the barely-news-covered problems of far away strangers are just as important (or more important) as the news-covered problems that confront our friends and families. The ability to do that is great, and I applaud any athlete who can think that way. But I don’t really expect or demand that an 18-year-old skier be able to think that way.

  • nathanaelnerode

    The Olympics has been political since 1859. They have been highly political for really, their entire modern history. The first great political fight in the Olympics was over “amateurism”, a very serious class issue.

    Boycott the IOC if we can’t figure out any better way to fight it.

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    Yes, what Eric said, but in addition, didn’t a Russian pol light the fuse by making threatening noises directed toward Olympic visitors and athletes? Seems to me that’s when things really got heated. Did the Chinese make any such threats toward participants and visitors? I’m not saying they didn’t, but I don’t recall them doing so.

  • escuerd

    On top of everything else, apparently holding your significant other’s hand is considered political demonstration.

    Fuck the IOC. What a nasty organization that they not only won’t take a stand for human rights, but will punish any participant who does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1017276335 Strewth

    SallyStrange, Donovan, points taken. I suppose what I was trying to (and totally failing) to say was that the IOC is a private group, and is within its privilege to allow or exclude individuals for participating based on its own rules. Whether it SHOULD, or if those are good rules, is another matter.

    And you’re right, the answer to upsetting speech is more speech, not less.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    ….the IOC is a private group, and is within its privilege to allow or exclude individuals for participating based on its own rules.

    ….which means governments should quit pandering to the IOC. Sports generally and the Olympics specifically are like a religion, only worse — government advancement, support, entanglement and just general ass-kissing is not only legal, it’s fucking politically mandatory.

  • cptdoom

    The Olympics has been political since 1859.

    That’s tough, as the modern games began in the 1890s.

  • gardengnome

    In my opinion the IOC is an utterly corrupt institution and the Olympics are for sale to the highest bidder – either over or under, the table. It ceased being about the ‘sport’ ages ago.

  • jonhendry

    David @20 “It would have been nice to see such outrage at the Beijing Olympics. China is well known for various and sundry human rights abuses. I wonder why Russia’s treatment of gays has raised such ire but China’s treatment of dissenting political thought didn’t.”

    Probably because, for all its problems, China is seen as having improved dramatically and there being a trend of increasing freedom. (It’s mostly economic freedom, but still… And I’m not saying it’s right to have this attitude about China.)

    On the other hand, the Russian situation is a recent shift against freedoms for a minority, what with homosexuality having been decriminalized after the fall of the Soviet Union.

  • jameshanley

    David @17:

    I think the correct way for athletes to support gay rights would be to hold up cards with those sections of the charter on them. Rainbow pins etc. may be more visually immediate, but how can the IOC kick an athlete out for holding up (a section of) the IOC charter?

    And we can print them in every color of the rainbow!

  • Ole Tjugen

    I would like to see every nation incorporate a pink triangle and a rainbow stripe in their official Olympic uniforms.

    No pins, no placards, no singling out individuals in any way. EVERYONE.

  • birgerjohansson

    I am not surprised. The Spanish Bastard who was chairman was not only corrupt, he was openly proud about his time in the fascist party.

    As for Hypocrite Nazi Sympathiser Man from USA who was chairman, American readers are already familiar with his shenagians.

  • http://lordsetar.wordpress.com Setár, genderqueer Elf-Sheriff of Atheism+

    cptdoom #29, please read up on the Zappas Olympics

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Nailed it again: Athletes at worlds sport rainbow fingernails

    MOSCOW (AP) — At least two Swedish athletes at the world championships in Moscow competed with rainbow-colored fingernails Thursday, showing support for gays and lesbians in contrast to Russia’s new anti-gay law…

  • freehand

    I have always been repelled by jingoism, and have always seen it in televised sports (with rare exceptions – when it is actual news, and not contest voyeurism). I have watched bits and pieces of the Olympics for the sheer beauty of movement so often displayed, but it has become intolerably ‘jingoistic and maudlin’ over the last few decades.

    On another note, I seem to recall the IOC getting a court order forbidding the use of the name “Gay Olympics”. They don’t seem too comfortable with the cause. I never understood the court’s decision, since I would have thought that 2500 year-old history might be considered prior use. This is one of many reasons why I am not a lawyer.