Olympic venues and podiums should be off-limits for any form of protest, most Australian athletes believe. But Australia’s Olympians want opportunities to express themselves in other forums, possibly at the athletes’ village, media conferences or via social media.
The Australian Olympic Committee has surveyed past, present and potential Olympians on whether they would support relaxing a ban on protests at Olympic Games. The move comes amid pressure for the International Olympic Committee to abolish a long-held rule prohibiting demonstrations, which the governing body is reviewing.
The AOC’s athlete’s commission chair Steve Hooker says the survey found about 80% of the 496 respondents believed a protest on the field of play would detract from performance or Games experience of athletes.
“We heard a really strong point of view that ‘I am here for sport and I want to be able to focus on my sport without distractions’,” Hooker said. “Athletes preferred that their views be shared by social media, interviews, forums in the village and subtle actions like arm bands or emblems on clothing and a moment of solidarity at the opening or closing ceremony.”
Almost 40% of respondents believed in self-expression depending on the circumstances and around 19% believed in self-expression in any circumstances. But 41% felt the Games were not a place for athletes to publicly express views. Hooker said there was a clear difference in view depending on the ages of athletes.
“Views have changed over time and the current day athletes believe they should be able to express their views during Games time,” he said. “The majority of athletes don’t want to see protests on the field of play or anywhere that would detract from the performance or experience of other athletes.
“[But] athletes are not sure how or when they’re allowed to express themselves off the field of play …there is a lack of understanding around the consequences of a breach of Rule 50.”
Australia’s athlete survey was the first to be released in the world, with other nations conducting similar surveys of their athletes. The results will be considered by the IOC before it determines any change to the protest rule ahead of the Tokyo Games next year.
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