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Bach warns athletes against ‘political statements’ at Tokyo 2020

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has called on athletes to respect the political neutrality of the Olympics and refrain from any form of political protest at the Tokyo 2020 summer Games.

The IOC president railed against the ‘growing politicisation of sport’ and argued that the Olympics ought to stand ‘above and beyond any political differences’ if the IOC is to ‘accomplish its mission to unite the world’. Bach delivered the message in his annual New Year’s address to the Olympic family, posted on the Olympic.org website.

“The Olympic Games are always a global platform for the athletes and their sporting performances. They are not, and must never be, a platform to advance political or any other potentially divisive ends,” he wrote.

“We stand firmly against the growing politicisation of sport because only in this way can we accomplish our mission to unite the world in peaceful competition. As history has shown, such politicisation of sport leads to no result and in the end just deepens existing divisions.”

Bach’s comments appear to be a response to events at the 2019 Pan American Games where the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee placed two athletes on probation for staging podium protests during the event.

The message could also have been influenced by the commercial problems endured by the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) following high-profile cases of political activism.

A host of Chinese brands ceased working with NBA China after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet in support of protestors in Hong Kong, while national anthem protests in the NFL alienated large sections of the league’s audience.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter says no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas while Rule 55 forbids speeches of any kind by any representative of any government or public authority.

Bach, together with Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee president Yoshiro Mori, submitted the Olympic Truce Draft Resolution to the United Nations General Assembly in New York last December. In keeping with the tradition dating back to the original Olympic Games in Ancient Olympia in 776BC, the resolution will aim to ensure a halt to all hostilities, allowing the safe passage and participation of athletes and spectators for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

“It is important to note in this regard that there is broad support and understanding among a great majority of athletes that the field of play and ceremonies should not become an arena for political statements or any kind of protests,” Bach concluded. “Respecting one’s fellow athletes also means respecting their unique Olympic moment and not distracting from it with one’s own political views.”