Olympic field and track star Gwen Berry, who grabbed headlines in August for raising her fist during the Pan American games, called the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC)’s crackdown on protesting “a form of control.”
Athletes competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are now prohibited from raising their fist or taking a knee while on the field of play, in the Olympic Village and during medal ceremonies.
On January 9, the IOC released a three-page guideline that reinforced Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. The guidelines allow athletes to express their political opinions during press interviews outside the Olympic Village, to the media, in meetings and on social media.
“We believe that the example we set by competing with the world’s best while living in harmony in the Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world,” the IOC said in a statement. “This is why it is important, on both a personal and global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations.”
The IOC noted that athletes who display political messaging, gestures of a political nature and refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocols will be found to be protesting and will face disciplinary action. Punishment will be taken on a case-by-case basis, the IOC said, without clarifying what type of disciplinary action athletes could face.
The latest guidelines comes just months after two American athletes were disciplined for protesting on the medals podium at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Fencer Race Imboden knelt after receiving his medal, while hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist during the national anthem.
Both athletes were placed on a 12-month probation by the United States Olympic Committee. Imboden and Berry were told that athletes would face stricter punishment if they protested at future competitions. The two athletes are still eligible for the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2020.
In July 2019, swimmers from Australia and Britain refused to share a podium with Chinese champion Sun Yang, The New York Times reported as the athletes objected to Sun’s participation despite doping concerns.
Berry Speaks Out
Berry told The North Star that she understands why the IOC released the new guideline, saying that the organization is attempting to “protect the love for the sport.” While she respects and understands the Olympic committee’s guidelines, Berry said she does view it as a “form of control.”
“If you don’t give athletes the right to express themselves on the highest platforms of their careers, you are actually silencing them,” Berry said. “I feel like it’s a rule for a reason, right? There will be no need for the rule if athletes were able to express themselves freely.”
The 30-year-old Olympic track and field star noted that the Olympics are political in nature, highlighting the 1936 games in Berlin, the 1968 games in Mexico City and the 1972 games in Munich.
While not necessarily encouraging fellow athletes to protest in Tokyo this summer, Berry did have some advice for anyone thinking of doing so.
“I would say, make sure you know your message,” she said. “Make sure you know your reasons and stand on that. Be clear on that and be proud of that.”
She suggested protesting athletes be as respectful as possible and to “stand firm” on their message. Berry noted they should also be ready to face any consequences that might come their way.
Speaking about her own suspension — she and Imboden face harsher punishments if they violate the protesting rules in the following months — Berry said she does not regret protesting in Lima. “It made things harder for me, of course, but…I’m okay with it,” she told The North Star.
Berry now faces the Olympic trials for one of the three coveted spots on the U.S. team for the games in Tokyo.
Past Protests at The Olympic Games
One of the most iconic protests at the Olympic Games were led by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Smith and Carlos raised their fists in protest of racial discrimination after winning gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200 meters. They were subsequently suspended from the national team.
The two, who faced death threats, unemployment and homelessness back in the U.S., were inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in 2019. After the Class of 2019 was announced, Carlos spoke to USA Today about political protesting at the Olympics, noting that it is impossible to celebrate the individual spirit while demanding it be ignored.
“You have to realize this: You can’t ever sign a waiver to disregard the fact you’re involved in the human race,” Carlos told the newspaper. “How can you disassociate yourself from the issues of human rights?”
Smith did not respond to a request for comment from TNS regarding the IOC’s new guidelines.
More than 60 years before the Olympics in Mexico City, Irish long jumper Peter O’Connor waged his own protests at the 1906 intermediate Games in Athens. O’Connor was forced to compete for the United Kingdom instead of an independent Ireland.
While receiving his silver medal, O’Connor climbed up the flagpole to raise the green flag of Ireland to replace the Union Jack as his fellow Irish teammate Conor Leahy stood guard.
- The North Star American Athlete Gwen Berry Raises Fist in Protest at Pan American Games
- The North Star Athletes Receive 12 Months Probations After Protests at Pan American Games
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.