Silencing the Olympians

A stage for a certain nature of human emotions, the Olympic Games have also been a platform for a different kind of expression.

Published: 14th January 2020 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th January 2020 03:32 PM   |  A+A-

The Olympic flag flying outside city hall in Vancouver, British Columbia. (File photo / Reuters)

A stage for a certain nature of human emotions, the Olympic Games have also been a platform for a different kind of expression. There have been occasions when athletes have made gestures or resorted to other methods to send out political messages. The Black Power salute on the podium by two Afro-American sprinters in 1968 remains the most famous such incident. These have not been limited to the Olympics. Other multi-nation games, even the football and cricket World Cups, have witnessed such demonstrations. Following a recent directive from the International Olympic Council (IOC), these gestures will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics this year.

“We believe that the example we set by competing with the world’s best while living in the harmony of the Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world,” read an IOC message. It added that the Olympic atmosphere should be “free from political, religious or ethnic demonstrations”. The move doesn’t take into account that sports as a part of life is linked to political awareness. To say there is no room for peaceful demonstrations that usually last a few seconds raises the question whether the IOC is succumbing to the demands of powers that are wary of loss of face on a global platform in those moments.

A body that advocates participation of unified Korea speaking against political expression can be seen as a case of double standards too. This decision also opens the door for a debate over what constitutes a political demonstration. When an American athlete knelt down on the podium and another raised a fist at the Pan American Games in Peru last year, it was deemed unacceptable. When Bayern Munich’s Brazilian striker Giovane Elber mimed a dove in the air with his hands after scoring in a Champions League game days after the 9/11 attacks, it was seen differently. By announcing steps that can’t be measured tangibly, the IOC may have opened the door for more imaginative methods. Human instinct has a tendency to find voice in unexpected ways, especially when suppressed.

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