Olympic knee ban should stay, say many ath­letes

Com­peti­tors fear nu­mer­ous other protests on podi­ums Pun­ished ham­mer thrower claims rule will be ig­nored

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Ben Bloom The Tele­graph

Many ath­letes want the ban on tak­ing a knee at next year’s Tokyo Olympics re­tained, be­cause they fear that lift­ing it would open the door for other forms of protest, ac­cord­ing to the woman lead­ing the con­sul­ta­tion over whether to over­turn the con­tro­ver­sial rule.

But one ath­lete, who was pun­ished last year for a podium protest at the Pan Amer­i­can Games, has told The Daily Tele­graph that in­di­vid­u­als will con­tinue to make a stand re­gard­less.

The Ath­let­ics As­so­ci­a­tion, a new in­de­pen­dent body for track and field ath­letes, last week pledged to lead the fight against the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s rule 50, which pro­hibits com­peti­tors from tak­ing a knee in sol­i­dar­ity with the anti-racism move­ment.

Fifa, the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and Amer­ica’s Na­tional Foot­ball League are among ma­jor sports or­gan­i­sa­tions to re­move sanc­tions for peace­ful anti-racism protests in re­cent months. But the IOC has in­structed its Ath­letes’ Com­mis­sion to con­sult com­peti­tors be­fore de­cid­ing whether to lift its own ban.

Kirsty Coven­try, who won two Olympic swim­ming gold medals for Zim­babwe and is now lead­ing the global con­sul­ta­tion as chair­man of the Ath­letes’ Com­mis­sion, says a de­ci­sion will be made by the end of the year, but all op­tions re­main.

“The thing that I’m wor­ried about is look­ing at a podium and you have some­one who’s cam­paign­ing for Black Lives Mat­ter, some­one cam­paign­ing for white supremacy and some­one cam­paign­ing for something else,” she said. “That would not be OK. It would look aw­ful. It’s sup­posed to be your Olympic mo­ment when you’ve won a medal. What if we have three ath­letes all want­ing to stand up and have three dif­fer­ent protests or fight for three dif­fer­ent things? Even the most vo­cal ath­letes have said that’s not what they want.

“Let’s say this rule gets changed, we al­low for something and we have three dif­fer­ent [protests]. What do we then do? Who al­lows what? Who makes that de­ci­sion? What does it look like? No one’s re­ally wanted to an­swer that. We can’t just change the rule to this, be­cause if we do then it changes the rule for this, this and this.”

Asked if a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of ath­letes so far con­sulted were in favour of rule 50 re­main­ing, and thus the ban on tak­ing a knee stay­ing in­tact, Coven­try said: “Yes.”

While de­clin­ing to give her own opin­ion for fear of jeop­ar­dis­ing the neu­tral­ity of her po­si­tion, she also said the Ath­letes’ Com­mis­sion could im­ple­ment some other form of group protest away from the podium.

“If we’re say­ing the only place [ath­letes] can gain at­ten­tion is the podium and field of play, then how does that make all the ath­letes that don’t get on the podium feel?” she said. “If we’re try­ing to show we’re in sol­i­dar­ity and we all feel this or that is im­por­tant, maybe it’s not about the podium or field of play. Maybe it’s other spa­ces or it’s a spe­cific mo­ment where we stand in sol­i­dar­ity. All of those kinds of ideas are be­ing spo­ken about.”

Gwen Berry, the Amer­i­can ham­mer thrower, was placed on oneyear pro­ba­tion by the US Olympic and Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee af­ter raising a fist – echo­ing the ac­tions of Amer­i­can sprint­ers Tom­mie Smith and John Car­los at the 1968 Olympics – when she won gold at the Pan Amer­i­can Games last year.

De­spite los­ing spon­sor­ship as a re­sult, she told she be­lieved protests would con­tinue re­gard­less of the rules or con­se­quences. “I do not be­lieve the IOC will change its guide­lines,” she said. “It is hop­ing this whole thing dies down – that it’s just a trend and people will have moved on to something else by next year.

“But the ath­letes are go­ing to do what they want at the Olympics. It doesn’t mat­ter if protests are banned or not. The power is with the ath­letes and they will de­cide what to do. This isn’t like bas­ket­ball or foot­ball – Olympic ath­letes only get the chance once ev­ery four years to com­pete on this stage, so if they are go­ing to make their voice heard it has to be there.”

‘The IOC is hop­ing this whole thing dies down – that it is just a trend’

Mak­ing a stand: Gwen Berry was put on a one-year pro­ba­tion af­ter raising her fist on the Pan Amer­i­can Games podium af­ter win­ning gold in the ham­mer last year

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