Canadian Athletes Support Olympic Games ‘In Certain Situations’

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Canadian athletes struck a balance in their statement on the International Olympic Committee’s anti-protest rule on Monday.The Athletes’ Commission of the Canadian Olympic Committee (ACOC), with the support of the National Committee, presented seven suggestions for Rule 50 that “no type of political, religious or racial protest or propaganda is allowed in areas. ”

Canadian athletes suggested adding neutral protected spaces to the Games for peaceful demonstrations that do not interfere with competition.

They also suggested that clear guidelines be established for what constitutes a demonstration, protest and propaganda, as well as provisions for what is considered acceptable actions.

Oluseyi Smith, two-time Olympian and COC AC chairman, said the consensus showed a willingness to protest not to interfere with the competition on the field. There was little agreement, however, on the podium demonstrations or at the opening and closing ceremonies.

“Athletes agree that the games need to stay for the sake of sport while providing an opportunity for athletes who have earned their right to speak up – to stand up for things that are important to them while looking at the world,” Smith said.

The rule was tightened in January when the IOC reduced the number of places it would allow athletes to protest.

WATCH | CBC Sports Panel on Rule 50 Recommendations:

The COC Athletes’ Commission presented 7 recommendations regarding Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. 17:20

These changes have been criticized following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, which sparked global protests against racial injustice, including among professional athletes.

Smith and other Canadian athletes like sprinter Aaron Brown, wrestler Jasmine Mian and decathlete Damian Warner all made reference to the NBA’s efforts to promote racial justice following the deaths of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as of Jacob Blake’s shot.

“It’s really just a discussion of” Is this a place for sport, or is it a place to stand up for what we hold dear? And I really believe we can have our cake and eat it too. I think we can go out and be the best athletes we can [be] Smith said. But also to draw attention to topics that are important to us as individuals, but also to us, a nation like the NBA has done around Black Lives Matter. ”

Recommendations weaker than the US statement

The Canadians’ recommendations were weaker than the U.S. statement on the issue, which called for the rule’s complete abolition and was backed by pioneers John Carlos and Tommie Smith, known to have raised their fists on the podium at the Olympic Games in Mexico City from 1968 to 1968. protest against racial inequalities.

Mian, 30, competed in the 2016 Olympics and graduated from the Calgary School of Public Policy. In July, Mian wrote for CBC News that abolishing Rule 50 could do more harm than good.

She suggested that threatening a boycott would be more effective than mere acts at the Games.

WATCH | Sprinter Aaron Brown says the recommendations don’t go far enough:

CBC’s Scott Russell spoke to Canadian Olympic sprinter Aaron Brown about Rule 50, which prohibits protesting at the Olympics. 5:14

“I think it would be incredibly powerful if we come together as a collective and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to do Tokyo next year until and unless the government wants to make progress on some issues. home or internationally, ”said Mian.

“I think waiting to talk about it on the Olympic podium is actually missing our opportunity to be truly activist. ”

Once the Games started, Mian said athletes lost their bargaining power and protests became less effective.

“There are aspects of the Olympic movement and aspects of neutrality that are worth preserving, and I think we need to have a more nuanced conversation about the happy medium between having complete autonomy to say what you want and not. say nothing. at all, ”Mian said.

Brown, 28, also competed in Rio. The sprinter said the rule 50 goes against the values ​​of the Olympic movement, citing the charter saying to practice “sport for the harmonious development of mankind”.

“When you have a rule in place that prevents you from doing that and restricts you in certain things, I just think it goes against the spirit of what it’s meant to stand for,” Brown said.

The Toronto native said Olympians should use the attention of the Games to their advantage.

“If they want to become leaders on the pitch or on the playing field, why not be leaders? They can demand change and shed light on the injustices that are happening in the world, ”Brown said.

Warner, 30, from London, Ont., Agreed that athletes should use the Olympic platform.

“In some situations where your voice is more powerful than your legs or your projecting arm, I think you should be able to speak your mind or talk about the things that have tormented you and your communities,” said Warner said.

WATCH | Damian Warner criticizes the IOC protest rule:

Canadian decathlete Damian Warner had strong words for the IOC, calling their position on the protesting athletes “unhappy” and saying they were on the “wrong side of history”. 0:50

Consequences for breaking a new rule

Another issue considered by Canadian athletes was that of the consequences of violating the proposed new rule. Mian said government interference with the right to protest of individual athletes is a potentially negative outcome of the complete abolition of Rule 50.

“Even though we have given athletes all over the world the same rights to demonstrate on the podium, the consequences for them in their country of origin will be very different, and I think this is a real concern,” he said. she declared.

To this end, the AC COC recommended establishing clear consequences and “degrees of violation” for athletes who break the rule.

Rule 50 also includes language prohibiting the marketing of the Olympics through athlete advertising, which Canadian athletes recommended be separated from protest guidelines.

The Athletes’ Commission said it only made recommendations supported by a clear majority of its members, following a process that included public seminars, one-on-one meetings with individual athletes and open-ended questions and answers. .

Below are the full COC AC recommendations to change Rule 50:

  • Establish two separate rules for expressing opinions: one regarding expressions through business matters such as emblems, advertising and business facilities, and the other regarding demonstrations, protests and propaganda.
  • Clearly define the terms used in Rule 50, including what constitutes a demonstration, protest or propaganda.
  • Make arrangements for what is considered an acceptable demonstration based on the values ​​and principles of Olympism.
  • Establish clear parameters for an acceptable event that is peaceful and respectful of other athletes and countries.
  • Maintain and / or create neutral or protected spaces that allow a peaceful demonstration that does not interfere with competition.
  • Clearly define and describe the consequences and “degrees of violation” around the demonstration, protest and propaganda.
  • Explore other opportunities to meaningfully celebrate unity and inclusion by taking a stand against racism and discrimination.

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