Political, religious and racial demonstrations are not tolerated at the Olympics. And in the wake of two American gold medalists protesting on the Pan American Games medal stand, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is ensuring its athletes know this and recognize there will be serious repercussions.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics falls in the middle of the presidential election, creating a collision of potential protests against President Donald Trump, a world platform and the crucial political period.
Pan Am fencers formally reprimanded
Gwen Berry, who won gold in the women’s hammer, and Race Imboden, who took gold in fencing, each staged dramatic protests against Trump on the podium last week at the Pan American Games. All athletes participating sign off on rules forbidding political protest, as with the Olympics.
Berry, 30, raised a clenched right fist and bowed her head during the national anthem to protest “extreme injustice.” Imboden, a two-time Olympian, took a knee while the American team celebrated the win. He also knelt at the 2017 Fencing World Cup.
They will not be disciplined for the acts, but the organization will have an eye on them.
In a letter to the athletes obtained by the Associated Press, USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland reprimanded the protests and gave them a 12-month probation. If they breach the code of conduct in that time, there may be more serious sanctions. They are both eligible for the Olympics.
Hirshland “applaud(ed)” their “admirable” choice to be “an active citizen,” but reminded them there are strict policies for the Olympics, according to USA Today.
Protests will face repercussions in Tokyo
Hirshland’s letter made clear to all athletes under the Team USA umbrella that anything of the kind next summer in Tokyo will not be treated with the same soft discipline.
"It is also important for me to point out that, going forward, issuing a reprimand to other athletes in a similar instance is insufficient.
"We recognize that we must more clearly define for Team USA athletes what a breach of these rules will mean in the future,'' Hirshland wrote. "Working with the [athletes and national governing body councils], we are committed to more explicitly defining what the consequences will be for members of Team USA who protest at future Games."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) takes on disciplining athletes who break rules. After the 1968 raised-fist protest by John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the medal stand, the USOC decided to issue a warning but give no suspension.
The IOC, reasoning the USOC could not control its athletes and “that racial dissension might spread to other delegations,” banned Smith and Carlos from the Olympics and stripped them of the medals.
Team USA and 2020 Election collide
Politics has long been a part of sports as a whole. In recent years the two have become more intertwined, from LeBron James refusing to “shut up and dribble” to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem to the current turmoil around Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
That’s not to mention USWNT star Megan Rapinoe’s feud with Trump during the Women’s World Cup. She, as well as her teammates, notably kept that issue off the pitch.
The back-to-back world champions will be at it again next summer in a political climate that will likely be even more heated than it is now. The Democratic National Convention is scheduled for July 13-16, a week before the opening ceremony in Tokyo, and there will be a clear challenger for athletes against Trump to support.
It will be the first summer Olympics during Trump’s presidency. Many of the most recognizable faces of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang did not attend the ceremony at the White House. Adam Rippon, Lindsey Vonn, Chloe Kim and Jessie Diggins all met with congressional leaders instead to discuss climate change.
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