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  • US Olympians Develop Protest Plans, Push for Equality


    (ATR) John Carlos, famed as an Olympic medalist and a black-gloved protester at the 1968 Olympics, is among nearly four dozen athletes and other individuals named to a newly formed council on racial and social equality for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

    John Carlos (Wikimedia Commons)
    The Team USA Council on Racial and Social Justice was announced in a press release late on Friday, August 29 from the USOPC. 

    Formation of the Council comes as professional sports leagues in the US cope with a wave of boycotts by players to call attention to issues involving racial and social inequality. At the same time, national Olympic committees around the globe are hearing demands from athletes to express themselves within the context of the Olympic Games. Protests and other forms of political expression are banned from the field of play and ceremonies under rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. The IOC itself has recognized the interests of athletes to express themselves and has handed responsibility to the NOCs to come up with solutions that fit their teams.

    "We share the athletes’ call for non-discrimination, which is a core value of the Olympic Movement. We continue to strongly believe that sports competitions, where everybody enjoys the same rights and where there is no discrimination, are a very powerful demonstration of this important value,” says an IOC statement issued in the wake of the US protests a week ago.

    The USOPC council was created along with the existing Athletes Advisory Council, national governing bodies and with members of the U.S. Olympians & Paralympians Association. The group is described as led by athletes who comprise the majority of the membership, drawn from Olympic and Paralympic sports.

    The Council was “formed to address the rules and systems in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements that create barriers to progress, is committed to working collaboratively to provide solutions and recommendations with the aim of eradicating social injustice and cultivating change through strengthened athlete voices,” says the press release from the USOPC.

    Gwen Berry was warned by USOPC after a silent podium protest at Lima 2019. (Panam Sports)
    Along with Carlos, the membership was to include two other US athletes with more recent pedigrees for protest. Shot putter Gwen Berry and fencer Race Imboden both took part in silent protest during their medal ceremonies at the 2019 Pan-American Games in Lima. Both received warnings from the USOPC that further such protocol breaches could result in penalties greater than a warning.

    Berry told Around the Rings on Sept. 2 that she has declined the invitation to join the council.

    USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland, who signed the letters of warning to Berry and Imboden, nonetheless supports finding ways to allow athletes to express themselves at the competitions where they represent Team USA.

    “It is important that we continue this work of elevating athlete voices and addressing limitations within our Olympic and Paralympic community. This past week, we witnessed athletes across the country demand change through both words and actions – showing they are a powerful force in the community. We look forward to coming together as one Team USA to reflect and identify solutions toward meaningful change,” Hirshland is quoted in the release.

    The work of the new council is supposed to be divided across four main points.

    “The right to protest and demonstrations, to assess current policies and alternate options.
    “Athlete voice and advocacy, to empower athlete voices on Team USA platforms.
    “Institutional awareness and cultural change, to review USOPC and NGB diversity and hiring policies.
    “Racism and acts of discrimination, to enhance reporting and dispute resolution processes,” according to the announcement.

    No details yet about a schedule for the Council. Recommendations are supposed to be ready for action in early 2021, just in time for rescheduled world championships and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

    Edited by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.
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