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IOC's foolish no-protest stand

This editorial appeared in the Mercury News and East Bay Times, California.

The IOC's announcement last week that athletes participating in the Tokyo Games will face punishment for any political protests or demonstrations would be laughable if the Olympics weren't one of the world's premier sporting events.

The Olympics have long been synonymous with political hypocrisy. The International Olympic Committee likes to claim that the Games stand for international brotherhood and global harmony. Talk about a big lie.

The IOC consistently promotes national jingoism at the Games, going as far as playing the national anthem of gold medal winners while spectators and the silver and bronze medalists stand and watch.

The IOC is the organization that refused to move the 1936 Games from Berlin, despite Adolf Hitler's despicable desire to showcase Germany's "master race." And the IOC is the organization that rationalized giving the 2008 Games to Beijing because it "will do a lot for the improvement of human rights and social relations in China."

The IOC won't acknowledge it, but the ban on protesting is in itself a political act, siding with those who prefer that their star athletes be seen but not heard. It's likely to backfire, in spectacular fashion. Prohibiting protests will only bring more attention when they happen.

Fifty-three years after the 1968 Summer Games, the IOC still hasn't learned the lesson of the Tommie Smith and John Carlos' protest.

Smith won the gold and Carlos the bronze in the 200-meter race in Mexico City. The San Jose State track stars were part of Professor Harry Edwards' Olympic Project for Human Rights. They saw the Olympics as an opportunity to highlight Black pride and social consciousness. They also wanted to expose the historical exploitation of black athletes, demand the hiring of more black coaches and press to rescind Olympic invitations to the two countries that practiced apartheid, Rhodesia and South Africa.

So, when they stood on the Olympic podium, they raised their black-gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem. They weren't trying to dishonor the American flag. They were trying to raise consciousness about basic human rights.

The U.S. Olympic Committee's decision to expel them from the Games turned them into icons for the civil rights movement.

The IOC should embrace athletes' right to freedom of expression as a fundamental principle of the Olympic spirit.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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