IOC president Thomas Bach wants the Olympics to be about sports first. Bach believes the games exist to unite the world, and doesn’t want the Olympics to “descend into a marketplace of demonstrations.”
Bach, 66, made those comments in an article at The Guardian. In it, Bach stressed the Olympics were not about politics.
The Olympic Games are firstly about sport. The athletes personify the values of excellence, solidarity and peace. They express this inclusiveness and mutual respect also by being politically neutral on the field of play and during the ceremonies. At times, this focus on sport needs to be reconciled with the freedom of speech that all athletes also enjoy at the Olympic Games. This is the reason there are rules for the field of play and the ceremonies protecting this spirit of sport. The unifying power of the Games can only unfold if everyone shows respect for and solidarity to one another. Otherwise, the Games will descend into a marketplace of demonstrations of all kinds, dividing and not uniting the world.
The Olympic Games cannot prevent wars and conflicts. Nor can they address all the political and social challenges in our world. But they can set an example for a world where everyone respects the same rules and one another. They can inspire us to solve problems in friendship and solidarity. They can build bridges leading to better understanding among people. In this way, they can open the door to peace.
Bach’s comments come amid racial unrest in the United States and around the world. Black Lives Matter protests have taken place around the world in 2020. Australia, Asia, Europe, the United States and numerous other countries have held rallies and demonstrations in support of the movement.
Those demonstrations could make their way to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics — which will be held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — especially considering the number of teams and athletes who have already engaged in protests before, during or after games.
Bach cautioned against that, citing the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Bach, who was a fencer for West Germany, said he did not feel heard by politicians or sports leaders when West Germany boycotted the games in 1980. Bach called it a “very humiliating experience.”
Olympics have provided significant cultural moments in the past
While Bach wants athletes to shy away from demonstrations, some of the Olympics’ biggest moments have come as a result of athlete protests. The photo of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists in the air as a symbol of Black power at the 1968 Olympics is among the most iconic images from the games.
Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Germany while Adolf Hitler was in power also stands out as a significant moment for the games.
The Olympics has a rule against demonstrations — called Rule 50 — but not every member of the IOC believes it should be enforced in 2021. Sebastian Coe, head of World Athletics, said he supports athletes taking a knee at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
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