Rules Are In Place To Stop Athletes At Winter Olympics From Kneeling In Protest

Matt DunhamAP Images

Politics and sports have intertwined more than ever this year, and it would be naive to think that it wouldn’t trickle over from the NFL season with its kneeling protest to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. But unlike with the NFL, the Olympic Committee (IOC) have a rule on the books that would prohibit any kind of protest. However, the United States Olympic Committee is still deciding what to do if someone kneels or protests in another way, and the Olympic games have an ugly history of what happens to athletes who do protest on the medal stand.

Many Will Be Watching The Olympics To See If Any Athletes Are Kneeling In Protest

If any athletes from Team USA have the intention to follow the trend of the NFL players and take a knee in protest, they might think twice because there is a strict rule in the Olympic Charter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Rule No. 50 says that politics have no place in the Olympics.

“No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

U.S. Olympic Committee leaders met in advance of the Winter Olympics to discuss the matter and what was happening primarily in the NFL and say that they expect all American athletes to follow the rule as stated. As an aside, however, they say they understand the kneeling protest and support everyone’s right to self-expression.


The U.S. Olympic Committee Says That They Don’t Think Kneeling In Protest Is Negative

Scott Blackmun, the committee’s chief executive, says that he doesn’t believe that athletes are bad because they protest.

“I think the athletes you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t.”

Alpine skier Laurenne Ross said she would be surprised if anyone protested on the medal stand at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, but she understands why someone would.

“Part of me would be proud of that person for standing up or kneeling, or whatever, for their rights and using their voice. Part of me would be a little bit heartbroken that we are being torn as a nation and we are doing these actions that make us seem that we’re not one anymore.”

But for the 2018 Winter Olympics, it’s unlikely that anyone would be stripped of their medals and ejected from the games, says NBC News. But that’s exactly what happened in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City to medal-winning athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Both men raised their fists on the medal stand and faced life-altering consequences. Back then, the IOC put extreme pressure on the United States Olympic Committee to follow through on the punishment of Carlos and Smith.

But the United States Olympic Committee has now reconsidered what they did to the men and have invited them to attend other games as guests.

U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1986.Featured image credit: AP Images

Some Athletes Attending The Winter Olympics Are Prepared To Kneel In Protest

While most Olympians say they support what is being done in the NFL, the Olympics are different than a football game each Sunday. In the NFL, you are playing for your team, but in the Olympics, you are literally competing for your country.

However, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy says he would have no problem kneeling in protest of social injustice, and he thinks he would have support.

“I would have no problem doing something, I think there would be teammates that would stand with me.”

David Wallechinsky, president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, says it would be up to Team USA to deal with an athlete who participates in a kneeling protest. But there is a loophole to IOC No. 50 that someone can express a sentiment shared by a whole country.

“What the IOC does permit is political displays that represent entire nations. That’s why an athlete can wave their nation’s flag after an event. It’s also why Nazis were allowed to salute during the 1936 Games.”

The United States Olympic Committee has not imposed a rule as of yet on athletes attending the Winter Olympics.