Olympic and Paralympic Sponsors Must Protect Athletes' Rights to Freedom of Expression

29 January 2021: Today we are calling on all International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) TOP Sponsors to demand that the IOC and IPC respect athlete freedom of expression and rescind Olympic Charter Rule 50.2 and IPC Section 2.2. The suppression of athlete speech at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the racist history of that suppression is antithetical to the values TOP Sponsors espouse. To protect their investments and uphold their social responsibilities, these companies must immediately call for the IOC and IPC to align with the United Nations Universal Human Rights.

TOP Sponsors have responded to the current moment by strongly condemning structural racism and committing to making their companies and the world more inclusive. Now is the time to act on those promises.

With an investment of USD 1.03 billion per quadrennial, TOP Sponsors have the power and the responsibility to shape global sport and ensure that universal human rights extend to every athlete from every sport and every corner of the globe: on the podium, on the field of play, and peacefully protesting at home.

For 53 years, Rule 50.2 has been used as a tool of racial oppression. It has violated athletes’ universal right to freedom of expression and has been used to silence athletes who raise their voices, or their fists, for justice. Without action, TOP Sponsors are complicit in this oppression.

It is time for change. Over the past two years we have seen corporations around the world, including many TOP Sponsors, recognize their social responsibility and broaden their purpose to serve all stakeholders. Marketing investments in the Olympic and Paralympic movements must be a part of this corporate realignment; continued support of the IOC and IPC must be contingent on the sport administrators upholding human rights for all athletes. After all, the value of the investment comes from athletes.

Silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport. It is time for the underwriters of the Olympic and Paralympic movements to hold the IOC and IPC accountable. Athletes and human rights must come first.

Olympic & Paralympic TOP Sponsors include:

Airbnb*, Alibaba Group, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone*, Coca Cola*, Dow*(only Olympic), General Electric*(only Olympic), Intel*, Omega, ottobock. (only Paralympic), Panasonic*, Procter & Gamble*, Samsung*, Toyota*, Visa*

*Denotes statements made to stand for social and racial injustice.

Comments on the IOC’s Consultation on Athlete Demonstrations

The IOC’s Consultation on Athlete Demonstrations is an inadequate response to the current movement. Global Athlete has worked with independent social science and marketing research experts to analyze recent surveys conducted by athlete groups, including the IOC’s survey. The experts indicate that the survey methodologies and subsequent reporting are flawed and are not in line with research best practice. Consequently, the results may be unreliable or of little value in attempting to draw conclusions about athlete views on demonstrations at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Link to reviews

In addition, the IOC’s Athlete365 website, on a page dedicated to Rule 50 information, includes a list of NOC Findings with correlating links. Conspicuously absent are the findings of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee who came out with a strong stance in support of athlete freedom of expression as a human right. Link to statement

The IOC and IPC do not compensate or employ athletes attending the Games. In fact, the IOC and IPC require athletes to sign away many rights. After devoting years of their lives to qualify for the Olympics/Paralympics, athletes have no choice but to sign these documents. Athletes do not voluntarily give up these rights; they are given the false choice between maintaining their rights and continuing their careers.

If athletes want to speak up – in a way which respects the rights and freedoms of others as detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the sport community, and sponsors, should embrace their diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated and to threaten them with removal from the Olympic/Paralympic Games is another sign of the imbalance of power between sport leaders and athletes.

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