On Wednesday 14 July 2021 from 16.00-17.30 CET, the Asser International Sports Law Centre, in collaboration with Dr Marjolaine Viret, is organizing a Zoom In webinar on Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter and the right to free speech of athletes.
As the Tokyo Olympics are drawing closer, the International Olympic Committee just released new Guidelines on the implementation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter.
The latter Rule provides that ‘no kind of demonstration or political,
religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues
or other areas’. The latest IOC Guidelines did open up some space for
athletes to express their political views, but at the same time continue
to ban any manifestation from the Olympic Village or the Podium. In
effect, Rule 50 imposes private restrictions on the freedom of
expression of athletes in the name of the political neutrality of
international sport. This limitation on the rights of athletes is far from uncontroversial
and raises intricate questions regarding its legitimacy,
proportionality and ultimately compatibility with human rights standards
(such as with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights).
This webinar aims at critically engaging with Rule 50 and its
compatibility with the fundamental rights of athletes. We will discuss
the content of the latest IOC Guidelines regarding Rule 50, the
potential justifications for such a Rule, and the alternatives to its
restrictions. To do so, we will be joined by three speakers, Professor Mark James from Manchester Metropolitan University, who has widely published on the Olympic Games and transnational law; Chui Ling Goh, a Doctoral Researcher at Melbourne Law School, who has recently released an (open access) draft of an article on Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter; and David Grevemberg, Chief
Innovation and Partnerships Officer at the Centre for Sport and Human
Rights, and former Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation
- Prof. Mark James (Metropolitan Manchester University)
- Chui Ling Goh (PhD candidate, University of Melbourne)
- David Grevemberg (Centre for Sport and Human Rights)
Free Registration HERE
Editor's note: Anna Antseliovich heads the sports practice at the Moscow-based legal group Clever Consult. She also works as a senior researcher at the Federal Science Center for Physical Culture and Sport (Russia).
The Olympic Games have always been a source of
genuine interest for spectators as Olympians have repeatedly demonstrated astounding
capacity of the human body and mind in winning Olympic gold, or by achieving
success despite all odds.
At the ancient and even the first modern
Olympic Games, there was no concept of a national team; each Olympian represented
only himself/herself. However, at the 1906 Intercalated Games for
the first time, athletes were nominated by the National Olympic Committees
(‘NOCs’) and competed as members of national teams representing their
respective countries. At the opening ceremony, the athletes walked under the
flags of their countries. This was a major shift, which meant that not only the
athletes themselves competed against each other, but so too did the nations in
unofficial medal standings.
The nomination and selection of athletes by their
NOCs to compete under their national flag and represent their country is a
matter of pride for the vast majority of athletes. However, to what extent does
such a scheme correspond to the ideals which the Olympic Games were based on in
ancient times? Is it possible to separate sport and politics in the modern
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...
Editor's note: This report compiles the most relevant legal
news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on
the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser.
IOC Athlete Commission
releases its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020
The IOC Athlete Commission
presented its Rule 50 Guidelines for Tokyo 2020 at its annual joint meeting with the IOC Executive
Board. It comes as Thomas Bach had recently underlined the importance of political
neutrality for the IOC and the Olympic Games in his New Year’s message. Generally, rule 50 of
the Olympic Charter prohibits any political and religious expression by
athletes and their team during the Games, subject to certain exceptions. The
Guidelines clarify that this includes the ‘field of play’, anywhere inside the
Olympic Village, ‘during Olympic medal ceremonies’ and ‘during the Opening,
Closing and other official ceremonies’. On the other hand, athletes may express
their views ‘during press conferences and interview’, ‘at team meetings’ and
‘on digital or traditional media, or on other platforms. While rule 50 is
nothing new, the Guidelines have reignited a debate on whether it could be
considered as a justified restriction on one’s freedom of expression.
The IOC has made the case
that it is defending the neutrality of sport and that the Olympics is an
international forum that should help bring people together instead of focusing
on divisions. Specifically, Richard Pound has recently made the
argument that the Guidelines have been formulated by the athletes themselves and
are a justified restriction on free expression with its basis in ‘mutual
respect’. However, many commentators have expressed their skepticism to this
view (see here, here and here) citing that politics and
the Olympics are inherently mixed, that the IOC is heavily involved in politics,
and that the Olympics has often served as the grounds for some of history’s
most iconic political protests. All in all, the Guidelines have certainly been
a catalyst for a discussion on the extent to which the Olympics can be
considered neutral. It also further highlights a divide between athlete
committees from within the Olympic Movement structures and other independent
athlete representation groups (see Global Athlete and FIFPro’s statements on rule 50).
Doping and Corruption
Allegations in Weightlifting
Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has found itself embroiled in a doping and
corruption scandal after an ARD documentary was aired early in
January which raised a wide array of allegations, including against the
President of the IWF, Tamás Aján. The documentary also included hidden camera interviews
from a Thai Olympic medalist who admits having taken anabolic steroids before
having won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games and from a team
doctor from the Moldovan national team who describes paying for clean doping
tests. The IWF’s initial reaction to the documentary was
hostile, describing the allegations as ‘insinuations, unfounded accusations and
distorted information’ and ‘categorically denies the unsubstantiated’
accusations. It further claims that it has ‘immediately acted’ concerning the
situation with the Thai athletes, and WADA has stated that it will follow up
with the concerned actors. However, as the matter gained further attention in
the main stream media and faced increasing criticism, the IWF moved to try to ‘restore’ its reputation. In practice, this means
that Tamás Aján has ‘delegated a range of operation responsibilities’ to Ursual
Papandrea, IWF Vice President, while ‘independent experts’ will conduct a
review of the allegations made in the ARD documentary. Richard McLaren has been
announced to lead the investigation
and ‘is empowered to take whatever measures he sees fit to ensure each and
every allegation is fully investigated and reported’. The IWF has also stated
that it will open a whistleblower line to help aid the investigation.More...
My latest article has just been published online by the Journal of Law and Society. It is available open access here.
The article stems from a conference organised by Jiri Priban from Cardiff University on Gunther Teubner's idea of societal constitutionalism applied to transnational regimes. My role was to test whether his descriptive and normative framework was readily applicable to the lex sportiva, and in particular its overarching "constitutional" text: the Olympic Charter.
As you will see my conclusion is mixed. I find that the Olympic Charter (OC) displays many constitutional features and is even able to regularly defend successfully its autonomy vis-à-vis national states and their laws. However, while I document some inception of limitative constitutional rules, such as the ban on discrimination or the principle of fair play, I also conclude that those have limited impact in practice. While constitutional changes to the OC can be triggered by scandal, resistance and contestation, as illustrated by the emergence of environmental concerns after the Albertville Games and the governance reshuffle of the IOC after the Salt Lake City scandal, I am also sceptical that these were sufficient to tackle the underlying problems, as became obvious with the unmatched environmental damage caused by the Sotchi Games in 2014.
In conclusion, more than sporadic public outrage, I believe that the intervention of national law and, even more, European Union law will be capable and needed to rein the Olympic regime and impose external constitutional constraints on its (at least sometimes) destructive operations.
Here is the abstract of the article: This article examines various aspects of Teubner's theory of societal constitutionalism using the lex sportiva as an empirical terrain. The case study focuses on the operation of the Olympic Charter as a transnational constitution of the Olympic movement. It shows that recourse to a constitutional vocabulary is not out of place in qualifying the function and authority of the Charter inside and outside the Olympic movement. Yet, the findings of the case study also nuance some of Teubner's descriptive claims and question his normative strategy.
Good read! (And do not hesitate to share your feedback)