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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen June 28, 2021

Olympics ban athletes from all forms of political expression, not just Black Lives Matter support

If Your Time is short

  • Host countries do not set the rules for athletes participating in the Olympics, that’s the job of the International Olympic Committee.
  • Since the 1970s, the IOC’s charter has a rule prohibiting athletes from making any form of political expression and doesn’t single out a specific ideology or movement.

Protests by athletes during sporting events have long been a point of contention in the public eye; some detractors say athletes should stick to sports, while supporters say they should be able to use their platform to spread awareness of an issue.

Ahead of this year’s Olympics, scheduled to begin July 23, a Facebook post claims Japan has prohibited athletes from making any political expression during the Tokyo Summer Games, including wearing clothing that says "Black Lives Matter."

"Japan has banned all BLM apparel from the Olympics," the June 20 post reads. "No one can kneel or raise fists during the anthems either. I'm proud of Japan."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post is wrong in that it isn’t up to the host country to set what rules athletes have to follow while participating in the games. Instead, that’s the responsibility of the International Olympic Committee.

However, the IOC has a provision in its charter, called Rule 50, which prohibits athletes from making any sort of political expression, particularly on medal podiums, in the field of play, and at opening and closing ceremonies. The rule does not target a particular movement or ideology.

The rule states: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." A version of Rule 50 has been in place in the IOC's charter since at least 1975.

Examples of prohibited expressions include displaying any form of political messaging on a person’s attire and making any gesture that could be seen as political, such as kneeling or a raised fist.

The IOC did not respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment regarding Black Lives Matter apparel at the Olympics.

The focus at the Olympic Games should be on athletes’ performances, sport and international unity, and "it is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of  interference," said Rule 50 guidelines developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission.

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Rule 50 has been under scrutiny for several years, and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee recently sought to have the rule amended amid a growing wave of American athletes publicly taking up social justice causes, the Washington Post reported. The IOC reviewed the rule and announced in April it would not be changed.  

Olympics officials will allow athletes in Tokyo to wear clothing with more general messaging, like "inclusion," "peace," "equality" and "respect," according to the Associated Press.

The IOC also has said there will be opportunities for athletes "to express their views" — during press conferences, interviews, team meetings, and on social media.

Political expression at past Olympic events

Acts of political expression by athletes at the Olympics is nothing new and happened as early as the 1906 Athens Games, when a track and field athlete named Peter O’Connor waved a pro-Irish flag while representing Great Britain, according to the BBC.

The most well-known example of an Olympian using the global event to make a political statement may have been at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, when U.S. athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith bowed their heads and raised gloved fists during a medal ceremony at the height of the Black Power movement.

The IOC at the time called their display "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit" and expelled Carlos and Smith from the games.

Our ruling

A Facebook post claims, "Japan has banned all (Black Lives Matter) apparel from the Olympics. No one can kneel or raise fists during the anthems either."

The post is partly accurate.

The IOC, not a host country, sets the rules athletes have to follow.

Apparel that says Black Lives Matter may be seen as a form of political expression, and  Olympic officials for decades have had a rule prohibiting any form of political expression. Kneeling or raising a fist are forms of prohibited political expression. The IOC’s rule does not specifically target Black Lives Matter, or any one ideology or movement.

We rate the post Half True.

Our Sources

Facebook post, June 20, 2011

Olympic World Library, Olympic Charter 2020, accessed June 27, 2021

Olympic World Library, Olympic Rules 1975 (Provisional Edition), accessed June 27, 2021

International Olympic Committee, Rule 50 Guidelines Developed by the IOC Athletes’ Commission, accessed June 27, 2021

The Associated Press, "Olympic athletes promised legal support if they protest," April 22, 2021

The Washington Post, "Olympic officials uphold rule that bars athlete protests, ignoring U.S. calls for change," April 21, 2021

International Olympic Committee, "IOC Athletes’ Commission’s recommendations on Rule 50 and Athlete Expression at the Olympic Games fully endorsed by the IOC Executive Board," April 21, 2021

CBBC Newsround, "Rule 50: A history of protests at the Olympic games," June 5, 2021

BBC, "1968: Black athletes make silent protest," Oct. 17, 2004

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Olympics ban athletes from all forms of political expression, not just Black Lives Matter support

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