Tokyo 2020: Protest Games or Wok Olympics?

Gwen Berry isn’t coming to Tokyo with only one medal on her mind. The American hammer thrower is also weighing all her options for protesting on the podium if she were to step on it.

She’s done it before. Once, in 2019, Berry raised his fist when the US national anthem began playing as a protest against social injustice in his country. And just last month, when the star-spangled banner ran out of speakers during American selection trials, it changed it back to the American flag.

“I’ll find out when I get there (Tokyo),” Berry, who faced International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach via a New York Times video session, recently said.

Bach and the IOC will be watching. And they are warning – on July 16, Bach, in an interview with The Financial Times, advised athletes to avoid ‘divisive’ statements in sports. However, it is unlikely that athletes will be listening.

These fist-raising, kneeling, glass ceiling-breaking athlete activists are not content simply by pushing the limits of human effort. For them, the biggest sporting platform is also a platform to leverage their influence to bring about social and political change, even if it means inviting the wrath of Olympic bosses, who may scream in their seats and cry every time it happens. But let out a depressing sigh. .

sign of the times

“When the world is moving in one direction, it is very difficult for the game to stay still or move in the other direction,” explains sports scientist Ross Tucker. Indian Express. “So, it is inevitable that the culture so prevalent for the past few years will have an impact on sport.”

There is enough evidence that Tokyo is already a ‘voke Olympics’. The IOC, which likes to promote the idea of ​​political neutrality, has already been forced to relax its rules regarding demonstrations at the Games; The organizers then had to reverse their ‘discriminatory’ rule, which did not allow nursing mothers to bring their babies with them to Tokyo; For the first time a transgender athlete will compete in the Olympics; And one of Japan’s most powerful men – a former prime minister, no less – had to step down as head of the organizing committee for saying ‘women talk too much’, to be replaced by a woman , who has participated in several Olympic Games.

“These will be very awake Olympics, I think so,” American sprinter Rae Benjamin, who recently ran the third-fastest 400m hurdles race in history, tells this paper. “I can’t say I’m going to be one of those guys who will perform, but I stand in support of other athletes. It’s important right now (that the athletes speak), especially after what happened England Lost their final to Italy (in the European Football Championship).

relaxation of rules

Until the Rio Games five years ago, an IOC rule – Rule 50 – prohibited any kind of demonstration or political/religious statements at Olympic venues. But weeks after those games concluded, American football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee before a match to protest social injustice. Kaepernick was ostracized but the trend he established spread like wildfire. Taking a knee before a game is now as common in many events as it is to pose for a pre-match group photo.

The IOC had to bow down after initially insisting that the Tokyo Games would not be kept political. He reluctantly announced new rules that would allow for greater freedom of expression, even though performances on the medal stage and playground would still remain restricted. But The Guardian reported that all social media teams at Tokyo 2020 have been banned from posting such pictures.

However, the players could not care less. On Wednesday, the Great Britain women’s football team took a knee before their kick-off against Chile, proving that this time the focus will not just be on athletic performance, but what will happen before and after matches.

‘Streisand Effect’

This tug of war between athletes and officials will remain a constant theme in the background. Tucker calls this the “Streisand effect”, where the effort to suppress information only makes it more pervasive.

“You can understand that in a business world, the sponsor pressures and the IOC’s desire to avoid alienating anyone are very nervous about athletes on big important political issues,” Tucker says. it is said. “Just look at how jittery and upset people have become over the political protests in sport, and you realize that the IOC sees its ‘clients’ against sport. So I have some sympathy for them, but I don’t even see that.” How can one silence the views of athletes.

Especially in an era when athletes can reach millions of followers directly on issues ranging from Black Lives Matters to motherhood to gender rights. American sociologist and civil rights activist Harry Edwards, architect of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which led the Black Power Salute at the 1968 Games, says that social media has made athletes “more informed and in definite control of their images, actions and Made it. career than at any other time in history.’

“No one is going to sponsor or see IOC leaders participating in a track and field or gymnastics event or playing basketball, etc.,” Edwards said in a statement to The Indian Express. “It is the athletes who embody the essence, spirit and value of the Olympic Games. And ultimately athletes should have a greater authoritative hand in the field of power and authority over the Olympic institution. “

difference of opinion

In fact, all this can lead to conflicting ideals, as seen during Euros when on occasions one team took a knee while the other did not. It was also a sign of the time that the doping ban on American sprint sensation Sha’Carrie Richardson before her contest to smoke pot turned into a race issue and sparked a debate on the rights and wrongs of marijuana use.

Or even debate over the involvement of New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. “It’s a wake-up call to be inclusive and respect gender, but how does sport accommodate this, given that it’s biology, not gender that matters?” Tucker says.

He also argues that many of these conversations are ‘fear-driven’. “The IOC is afraid of alienating the fan base and sponsors, fearing reprisal if athletes express those views,” he says.

At least the berry picks aren’t intimidating. So far. Even when he protested for the first time in 2019 his sponsors backtracked and even last month, many in his country had labeled him an ‘anti-national’. When the national anthem was played, he turned his back to the flag and draped a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Athlete Activist’.

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