Coco Gauff's Twitter video
The tweeted video of Coco Gauff, the prodgious teenager of American tennis, was one of the first persons to hit out against racism after George Floyd's death. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: Once again, athletes from around the globe have been forced to stand together with their collective voice to pressurise the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for a rethink on its position and consult with athletes about Rule 50 laid out in the Olympic Charter (OC).

Sportspersons from across the world have been displaying support against acts of racism following the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis City police officer in the last week of May.

Sportspersons around the world united as one, but the IOC issued a statement on the contrary that dictated that athletes who ‘take a knee’ in solidarity with the anti-racism movement would face bans as the deemed the act a clear breach of human rights.

Athletes around the globe were appalled at the IOC statement and sought change.

And rightly so.

Global Athlete (GA), the body of athletes seeking to create a positive change in world sport by balancing the power between athletes and sporting leaders while securing a more meaningful and representative athlete voice for all decisions in sport was the first to respond.

GA rightly pointed out that the current governance of the global sporting movement has “placed athletes in a powerless position”.

“Athletes rarely get a say on the rules and development of sport, despite being the most important stakeholder. Without athletes, sport does not exist. It is blatantly hypocritical to tell athletes to stick to their sport and stay out of politics while the IOC and IPC consistently leverage politics to their advantage,” the GA statement said.

The IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) chose to remain silent so far, even though GA has assured that it is committed to being part of a consultative process for the sake of sport.

Luckily, GA has not succumbed to any sort of pressure. “Athletes have had to choose between competing in silence and standing up for what’s right for far too long. It is time for change,” the statement has charged.

“Every athlete must be empowered to use their platforms, gestures and voice. Silencing the athlete voice has led to oppression, silence has led to abuse, and silence has led to discrimination in sport,” it has added.

Meanwhile, what exactly is Rule 50?

It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating performances of athletes while showcasing sport and its values.

When viewed from this perspective, the IOC and the IPC’s very own rules outlined in the Olympic Charter Rule 50 are a clear breach of every athletes’ human rights. The IOC and IPC must respect Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states: “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference”.

Honestly, sports rules should not have the ability to limit that right. What we need not condone is the fact that it is these very athletes – our Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Sergey Bubka, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt - devote years of their lives to qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Athletes are influencers but they can only fight social injustice and assist in making the world a better place if their freedom of speech is protected, not silenced. To threaten athletes with removal from the Olympic or Paralympic Games is another sign of the imbalance of power between sport leaders and their most valuable asset - the athletes.

I think the astute thinking at this moment should be that all athletes must continue to stand together for change. And they should have the backing of all sponsors to demand such a change.

Athletes can no longer be silenced!