Lord Coe supports athletes’ right to take a knee on Olympic podium

Sebastian Coe has voiced his support for the right of athletes to take a knee at next year’s postponed Olympics in Tokyo.

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 12:51 pm
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe in Tokyo.
World Athletics president Sebastian Coe in Tokyo.

His comments appear to be in direct opposition to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which says “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

“I’ve been very clear that if an athlete chooses to take the knee on a podium then I’m supportive of that,” Coe said, giving a boost to Black Lives Matter protests and other social- and racial-justice movements that are determined to use Tokyo as a stage.

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The Tokyo Games had to be postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists to express their opposition to racism in the USA after receiving their 200m medals at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968.

Coe is an International Olympic Committee member, a two-time Olympic champion, and the head of World Athletics, the governing body of track and field.

He was also in charge of the 2012 London Olympics.

“Athletes are a part of the world and they want to reflect the world they live in,” Coe said. “For me, that part is perfectly acceptable as long as it is done with respect - complete respect - for other competitors, which I think most athletes properly understand.”

The Olympic Games has a checkered history with political protest.

Most infamously, US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the 1968 Games in Mexico City after each raised a black-gloved fist during the playing of the American national anthem as they stood on the podium after winning gold and bronze medals respectively in the 200 metres.

It was perceived as a “Black Power” salute although Smith said in his autobiography 30 years later that it was a “human rights” salute to raise awareness of racism in the US.

Avery Brundage, the then president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), deemed it to be a political statement which clashed with the Olympic Games’ supposed apolitical stance.

On their return home Smith and Carlos were largely ostracised by the US sporting establishment and endured a lifetime of prejudice. Their protest is now considered one of the most iconic Olympic moments.

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