Olympics Chief Warns Against ‘Divisive’ Political Activism on Medal Podium

EUGENE, OREGON - JUNE 26: Gwendolyn Berry (L), third place, looks on during the playing of the national anthem with DeAnna Price (C), first place, and Brooke Andersen, second place, on the podium after the Women's Hammer Throw final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field …
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Olympic athletes should avoid “divisive” political statements during the upcoming games in Tokyo, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said.

Olympics chief Thomas Bach said that political activism should not overshadow the games themselves, as athletes in America and Britain have increasingly used their platforms to promote leftist gestures such as the Black Lives Matter inspired “taking the knee” during sporting events.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Bach said: “The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made… for a political or other demonstration.

“They are made to honour the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private [views].”

While the Olympic committee announced earlier this month a softening of the ban on political activism, allowing activism during certain circumstances such as before a game is played, Mr Bach said that he would not support political gestures during high-profile events including medal ceremonies.

“The mission is to have the entire world together at one place and competing peacefully with each other,” Bach said, adding: “This you would never manage if the games [became] divisive.”

The loosening of restrictions came after controversy surrounding U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who turned her back during a rendition of the American national anthem in a medal ceremony for Olympics trials in Oregon in June.

Berry, who won a bronze medal during the track and field trials, also draped a black t-shirt over her head which read “Activist Athlete”.

It is unclear going forward how the Olympics’ managers will enforce any prohibition on politics during games. It remains to be seen if the committee would issue sanctions should an athlete perform a political protest during the opening, closing, or medal ceremonies.

Many on the British Olympic team have already promised to protest during the games. The British women’s football team, for example, vowed this week to take the knee before each of their matches in the games.

“We want to show to everyone this is something serious. It’s still happening. What a way to do it, on an Olympic stage,” said Britain defender Demi Stokes.

This follows the men’s England team taking the knee during their ill-fated attempt to win the recent Euros football tournament.

The England loss to Italy in the tournament sparked widespread capitulation from the notionally conservative Tory party and from members of the right-wing media after three black players faced abuse after missing crucial penalty kicks.

While the majority of the racist abuse reportedly came from overseas, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that “racists” would be banned from attending football matches.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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