Editor's note: Prof. Dr. Ekşi is a full-time lecturer and chair of
Department of Private International Law at Özyeğin University Faculty of Law.
Prof. Ekşi is the founder and also editor in chief of the Istanbul Journal
of Sports Law which has been in publication since 2019.
Editor's note: Lindsay Brandon is Associate Attorney at Law Offices of Howard
“Tell the white people of America and
all over the world that if they don’t seem to care for the things black people
do, they should not go to see black people perform.” – American sprinter and Olympic Medalist John Carlos
On 21 April 2021, the Athletes’ Commission
(AC) of the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) received
the “full support of the IOC Executive Board for a set of recommendations in
regard to the Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and Athlete Expression at the
Olympic Games.” This came over a year after the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games were
postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and almost a year after the IOC and AC
embarked on an “extensive qualitative and quantitative” consultation process to
reform Rule 50 involving over
3,500 athletes from around the globe.
Since its introduction of the new
guidelines in January 2020, Rule
50 has been touted by the IOC as a means to protect the neutrality of sport
and the Olympic Games, stating that “No kind of demonstration or political,
religious or radical propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues, or
other areas.” In other words, the
Olympics are a time to celebrate sport, and any political act or demonstration
might ruin their “moment
In fact, the Rule 50 Guidelines say
that a fundamental principle of sport is that it is neutral, and “must be
separate from political, religious or any other type of interference.” But this
separation is not necessarily rooted in totality in modern sports culture,
particularly in the United States (“U.S.”).
This is evidenced by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee
to not sanctioning Team USA athletes for protesting at the Olympics. The
USOPC Athletes stated “Prohibiting athletes to freely express their views
during the Games, particularly those from historically underrepresented and
minoritized groups, contributes to the dehumanization of athletes that is at
odds with key Olympic and Paralympic values.” More...
note: Thomas Terraz is a L.LM. candidate in
the European Law programme at Utrecht University and a former intern of the Asser International Sports Law Centre
1. Sport Nationalism is Politics
Despite all efforts, the
Olympic Games has been and will be immersed in politics. Attempts to shield the
Games from social and political realities are almost sure to miss their mark
and potentially risk being disproportionate. Moreover, history has laid bare
the shortcomings of the attempts to create a sanitized and impenetrable bubble
around the Games. The first
blog of this series examined the idea of the Games as a sanitized space and
dived into the history of political neutrality within the Olympic Movement to
unravel the irony that while the IOC aims to keep the Olympic Games ‘clean’ of
any politics within its ‘sacred enclosure’, the IOC and the Games itself are largely
enveloped in politics. Politics seep into the cracks of this ‘sanitized’ space through:
(1) public protests (and their suppression by authoritarian regimes hosting the
Games), (2) athletes who use their public image to take a political stand, (3) the
IOC who takes decisions on recognizing national Olympic Committees (NOCs) and awarding
the Games to countries,
and (4) states that use the Games for geo-political posturing. With
this background in mind, the aim now is to illustrate the disparity between the
IOC’s stance on political neutrality when it concerns athlete protest versus
sport nationalism, which also is a form of politics.
As was mentioned in part
one of this series, the very first explicit mention of politics in the Olympic
Charter was in its 1946 version and aimed to combat ‘the nationalization of
sports for political aims’ by preventing ‘a national exultation of success
achieved rather than the realization of the common and harmonious objective
which is the essential Olympic law’ (emphasis added). This sentiment was
further echoed some years later by Avery Brundage (IOC President (1952-1972))
when he declared: ‘The Games are not, and must not become, a contest between
nations, which would be entirely contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Movement
and would surely lead to disaster’. Regardless
of this vision to prevent sport nationalism engulfing the Games and its
codification in the Olympic Charter, the current reality paints quite a
different picture. One simply has to look at the mass obsession with medal
tables during the Olympic Games and its amplification not only by the media but
even by members of the Olympic Movement.
This is further exacerbated when the achievements of athletes are used for domestic
political gain or when they are used to
glorify a nation’s prowess on the global stage or to stir nationalism within a
nationalism is politics. Arguably, even the worship of national imagery during
the Games from the opening ceremony to the medal ceremonies cannot be
depoliticized. In many ways, the IOC has turned
a blind eye to the politics rooted in these expressions of sport nationalism
and instead has focused its energy to sterilize its Olympic spaces and stifle political
expression from athletes. One of the ways the IOC has ignored sport nationalism
is through its tacit acceptance of medal tables although they are expressly
banned by the Olympic Charter.
At this point, the rules restricting
athletes’ political protest and those concerning sport nationalism,
particularly in terms of medal tables, will be scrutinized in order to highlight
the enforcement gap between the two. More...
note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B.
candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague
University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently
he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on
International and European Sports Law.
Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the
IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting
its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’
have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g.
professionalism in sport),
while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and
manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g.
protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of
legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space. For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts
to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns
against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’
ability to represent their personal sponsors). Nowadays,
the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security
operations created to protect the Olympic sites.
Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has
long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More
recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC
Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the
Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard
Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual
respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people
this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided
vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of
their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people
and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world
only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set
one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they
must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and
of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible
to separate politics and sport?
Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at
least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.
However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism
to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression
during the Games (see here,
Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy
that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor
there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own
political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the
most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand
on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless,
what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games
and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity
enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country
versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter
frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events
and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal. Sport
nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a
country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to
validate its global prowess and stature.
To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical
approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed
by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and
the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be
argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games
but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively.
The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that
attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which
also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s
approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its
treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...