14 June 2020: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) recent statement that athletes who ‘take a knee’ in solidarity with the anti-racism movement will face bans is a clear breach of human rights. Athletes around the globe were awestruck with this statement and demanded change.
Once again athletes have stood together, and their collective voice has pressured the IOC to pivot on its position and now consult with athletes on Rule 50. The IPC has remained silent. Global Athlete is committed to being part of such consultation.
Athletes have had to choose between competing in silence and standing up for what’s right for far too long. It is time for change. Every athlete must be empowered to use their platforms, gestures and voice. Silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport.
The current governance of the global sporting movement has placed athletes in a powerless position. Athletes rarely get a say on the rules and development of sport, despite being the most important stakeholder. Without athletes, sport does not exist. It is blatantly hypocritical to tell athletes to stick to their sports and stay out of politics while the IOC and IPC consistently leverage politics to their advantage.
The IOC and the IPC’s very own rules outlined in the Olympic Charter rule 50 are a clear breach of every athletes’ human rights. The IOC, as an observer to the United Nations, must be held to a higher standard. The IOC and IPC must respect article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference." Sport rules should not have the ability to limit that right.
Athletes devote years of their lives to qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. If athletes want to speak up while respecting other rights and freedoms detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the IOC should embrace their diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated. Athletes are influencers, but they can only fight social injustice and assist in making the world a better place if their freedom of speech is protected, not punished. To threaten athletes with removal from the Olympic or Paralympic Games is another sign of the imbalance of power between sport leaders and their most valuable asset- the athletes.
We call on all athletes to continue to stand together for change. We call on all sponsors to demand change. We call on National Olympic and Paralympic Committees and International Federations to brave change as well as demand it. Lastly, we call on the IOC and IPC to end this hypocrisy, stand by their athletes, and abolish Rule 50. Athletes will no longer be silenced.
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