International Olympic Committee Vice President Anita DeFrantz has publicly defended Rule 50, an Olympic rule that bans athletes from protesting during competition and on the podium. In a recent interview with ESPN, DeFrantz argued that the podium is no place to ever protest.
"The podiums belong to no one," DeFrantz said.
"If you are fortunate enough to stand on one and you get to soak in that moment for the rest of your life, that moment is yours, but the podium is not yours."
DeFrantz's comments come one day after a group of more than 150 athletes, scholars and educators signed a letter calling for a change to Rule 50. While the rule allows players to protest before the start of competition, it bars protests like those that took place in Mexico City 53 years ago. It also bans apparel that sports the phrase, "Black Lives Matter."
"We do not believe the changes made reflect a commitment to freedom of expression as a fundamental human right nor to racial and social justice in global sports," a letter signed by Gwen Berry, Tommie Smith, John Carlos and several other Olympians reads.
"Staying neutral means staying silent, and staying silent means supporting ongoing injustice."
The group raised issues with the IOC's justification for upholding Rule 50. The IOC claims to have upheld Rule 50 because of a survey conducted by the athletes' commission that found widespread support for it.
"The report provides no information on racial/ethnic demographics or insights into the research instrument used and steps taken to strengthen the validity and trustworthiness of the data," the letter added.
Adding to the frustration of many Olympians, DeFrantz indicated that the IOC has no obligation to protect athletes' right to freedom of speech.
"Protect them from what? Who is the IOC? Are we a government?" DeFrantz asked rhetorically.
"We're not a government, I remind us again. We are a Swiss association and we work with all of our national Olympic committees. We don't necessarily work with governments."
Despite her desire to uphold Rule 50 and not protect athletes' freedom of speech, the self-proclaimed "activist" takes offense when critics hurl insults at the Olympic Games. For example, she was horrified when critics referred to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China as the "Genocide Games."
"Oh gosh, that is a horrible thing to say about anything," DeFrantz said.
"It is a horrible word to begin with. The fact that we know what it means is horrible as well. So, I would never say that. The words don't go together at all."
DeFrantz will likely be pushed to discuss these matters more so in the next two weeks. Before opening day soccer games, five teams kneeled. There is also a prevailing notion that several athletes will wear attire that sports the phrase, "Black Lives Matter."
The opening ceremony for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games is set to begin on Friday, July 23.
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