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Black Lives Matter: Sebastian Coe Wants Athletes to be Allowed to Protest at the Games, But is the Olympics Ready?

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, many athletes have exercised their right to protest on the playing field. The Olympic Games, if and when they get staged next year, could also become a platform for such protests, even though the Rule 50 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibits athletes to be a part of any demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda.
Black Power Salute at the Mexico City Olympics

The Black Power Salute protest at the podium of the Mexico City Olympics by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

World Athletics [IAAF] chief Sebastian Coe said that he strongly supports the right for an athlete to protest at the Olympic Games, which happens to be in direct contradiction to what the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) official policy.

Coe made the comment while touring the newly constructed National Stadium in Tokyo -- the main venue for the 2020 summer Olympic Games, now scheduled to take place next year.

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“I have been very clear; if an athlete wishes to take a knee on a podium, then I am supportive of that,” said Coe. “Athletes are a part of the world and they want to reflect the world they live in. For me, that is perfectly acceptable.”

Following the Black Lives Matter movement, many athletes have made the call to change Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter that states, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

In a little over a century old Olympic history, many protests have not taken place because of this particular rule. However, the athletes who braved the rule and the sanctions, have made a place for themselves in history, as inspiration for generations.

Mexico City Olympics

In 1968, two American athletes of black descent-- Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- took the protest to the Olympic podium of the Mexico City Games. They stepped up onto the podium without shoes, wearing black socks and a glove in one hand. They raised raised their fists above their heads -- the now famous black power salute --  while protesting discrimination against the black community in the US. Smith had won gold and Carlos bronze medals in the 200 metres sprint.

"If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say, a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black," Smith said at the time.

Gwen Berry at Pan American Games

Gwen Berry, after throwing the discus 74 meters to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games, raised her fist in protest against the atrocities faced by Black men and women in the US. 

“I was excited. I was nervous. In that moment when the national anthem was playing, I knew that that national anthem did not speak for people like me in America.

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“The freedom, liberty and justice for all, it is not for Black people. Something came over me. I raised my fist. I felt like I was not at peace with myself if I had not said something or did something at that moment,” she later said.

Berry was reprimanded and was served with a 12-month probation, which meant she could no longer talk about any political or racial issues for a year.

“I had a lot of people threatening me, a lot of people of course telling me to go back to Africa and leave the country, and telling me I didn’t deserve to wear the uniform,” Berry said. “But the death threats were the scariest things. I never knew people could wish bad on you because you just didn’t agree with a song or a flag,” she said.

This was all followed by major financial troubles for her since she lost 80% of her income after sponsors backed out.

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