Explained: What is Rule 50 and its importance at Tokyo Olympics 2020?

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Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states:

"no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas"

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said that Rule 50 will be in place for Tokyo Olympics 2020. Supporting Rule 50, IOC President Thomas Bach says:

" (The Olympics) are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends, our political neutrality is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be"

Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, who is also a part of the IOC's Athletes' Commission, believes the field of play is sacrosanct and the Olympics should not become a stage to express protests.

But athletes would still have the freedom to express themselves in press briefs, via their social media handles and mixed zones.

What constitutes a protest according to Rule 50?

The three-page document titled 'Rule 50 Guidelines' prepared by the IOC Athletes’ Commission lists out three examples of a 'protest'. They are:

  • Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands
  • Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling
  • Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol.

Why is Rule 50 being invoked for the Tokyo Games?

The killing of George Floyd by an American police officer last year led to widespread protests and a renewed Black Lives Matter movement. The movement found its way into the world of sports too. It has since become common for athletes to take a knee during sporting events to express solidarity with the oppressed. It is widely anticipated that several athletes could stage protests or raise their voices against racial injustices at the Tokyo Games too. This is where Rule 50 comes in.


What happens if an athlete violates Rule 50?

According to 'Rule 50 Guidelines', the onus is on the athlete's respective National Olympic Committee and International Federation to 'evaluate' the case. The IOC, on its part, will deal with the violations and take the necessary disciplinary actions on a 'case-by-case basis'. Kirsty Coventry, who represents athletes on the IOC executive board, has said that the IOC has not made clear the consequences athletes may face for protesting.

The IOC has said it undertook a quantitative survey in June 2020 that involved more than 3,500 athletes from 185 different nations and all 41 Olympic Sports. The survey results suggested that:

“a clear majority of athletes said that it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play (70% of respondents), at official ceremonies (70% of respondents) or on the podium (67% of respondents).”

However, the IOC's decision to invoke Rule 50 is not welcomed by all.

Which athletes have criticized Rule 50?

British sprinter Adam Gemili is happy to support the BLM movement. He said:

“For sure I would be happy to take a knee if I was successful at the Olympics and I had that opportunity,"

Adam Gemili has accused the IOC of double standards if it attempts to silence an athlete's protest.

Fellow British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith has been vocal on the issue and has supported Adam Gemili. Dina Asher-Smith said:

"Yeah, I think it is a shame that these restrictions have been put in place, especially when you consider what is happening in the world right now,"

USA's Sha'Carri Richardson will not be in action at the Tokyo Games but the champion sprinter has been clear about her stand on the issue. Sha'Carri Richardson said:

"[The IOC] has said their opinions and they said their restrictions but at the end of the day we as people, we have our own beliefs, we have our own rights."

US soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe concurs with Adam Gemili. In one of her Instagram stories, Megan Rapinoe wrote:

“so much being done about the protests. So little being done about what we are protesting about. We will not be silenced.”

In an interview with The Times, British cyclist and Olympic gold medalist Callum Skinner said:

"If one athlete wants to take a knee, they will take a knee,”

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has confirmed that it will not sanction athletes for demonstrating at the Olympics and Paralympics. The USOPC's decision came after it had punished hammer thrower Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden with a year-long prohibition. The two athletes took a knee during the medal ceremony of the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

Have the Olympics witnessed protests from the athletes?


The most famous example of athletes protesting at the Olympics is of American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico Games. During the medal ceremony, they wore black gloves and raised their fists in support of the Black Power movement.

Check: Tokyo Olympics 2020 Schedule

Also Read: Rise in COVID-19 cases spark concern in the Olympic Village

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Edited by SANJAY K K