The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced Wednesday that athlete protests and political messages will remain banned at the Tokyo Olympics after a survey found that a majority of competitors supported keeping the ban in place.
The decision means that raising a fist on the podium – as American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously did at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City – or taking a knee could lead to discipline at the Tokyo Games this year.
In a statement, the IOC said more than 3,500 athletes were surveyed over the past year, with 70 percent of those individuals saying it was “not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views” on the field of play or during the opening and closing ceremonies.
The survey also revealed that 67 percent of respondents disapproved of podium demonstrations.
“The goal of this wide outreach was to engage with athletes and hear their thoughts on existing and new opportunities to express their views at the Olympic Games as well as outside Games time,” Kirsty Conventry, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, said in a statement.
“We want to amplify the voices of athletes, and find more ways to support the values of the Olympic Games and what sport stands for. This consultation was a very important process for us and is part of the ongoing dialogue with the athlete community. We are delighted that the IOC Executive Board fully supported our proposals.”
The IOC hasn’t disclosed what punishments athletes might face for disregarding the rule. Coventry said a “proportionate” range of consequences will be created before the Games.
Smith and Carlos were expelled from the 1968 Olympics after raising their fists.
The upholding of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans any “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” at the Games, puts the IOC at odds with United States Olympic officials.
In December, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it won’t take action if athletes raise their fists or kneel during the national anthem at event trials before the Tokyo Games.
The U.S. Olympic body eased its stance after competitors asked for the right to express themselves on racial and social justice issues.
The Tokyo Olympic Games are scheduled to start July 23 and run through Aug. 8, 2021.