The head of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach insisted on Friday that protests should be kept out of this year’s Tokyo Games, saying that the Olympics should “unite” the world.
In a meeting of the IOC in Lausanne, Bach stressed the “importance” of a series of recently-adopted directives designed to clarify what is banned and the sanctions for those not respecting the ban, established under Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter.
“The Olympic Games are always a global platform for the athletes and their sporting performances. They are not, and must never be, a platform to advance political or any other potentially divisive ends,” Bach said.
Athletes, coaches, trainers and officials are banned from political protests on the field of play, the Olympic Village, during the opening and closing ceremonies and on the medal podium.
Anyone who does not respect these rules will face sanctions from the IOC, their country’s governing body for sport and their national Olympic committee.
“If this political neutrality is not respected, then the Olympic Games will divide, and not unite, the world,” added Bach.
Athletes will, however, be allowed to express their political opinions on their social media accounts and in official media settings.
Bach’s comments come after a series of political incidents in athletics in 2019, including Russia’s four-year ban from international sporting competitions over what the World Anti-Doping Agency calls a state-sponsored doping programme.
American fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry were put on 12 months probation by the US Olympic Committee after protesting against the policies of President Donald Trump as they collected medals at the Pan-American Games in August.
Imboden took a knee during the playing of the US national anthem while Berry raised a clenched fist before later calling out social injustice “and a president who’s making it worse.”
In October the International Judo Federation (IJF) banned Iran from competition indefinitely over the country’s refusal to face Israeli competitors.
Iranian fighter Saeid Mollaei, defending his title at the Tokyo World Championships in August, had said he was ordered to throw his semi-final rather than risk facing an Israeli in the final of the -81kg class.