Why The Tokyo Olympics Is A Moment For Racial Justice
Black athletes especially need our support, now more than ever, to address the issues that jeopardize the wellbeing of our communities.
July 27, 2021 at 4:30 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
Even before the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, the world witnessed the attacks on Black athletes from the International Olympics Committee and its affiliates. The United States Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA) ban of Black track athletes Sha’Carri Richardson and Brianna Rollins-McNeal, the International Swimming Federation’s ban on swim caps designed for natural Black hair — all of these have not only highlighted the rooted racism in the committees and organizations, but have shown the importance of continuing to build our community power to ensure that racial justice is real.
On the world’s stage, Black athletes’ presence already speaks to the spirit of determination and justice — it’s time we turn that presence into power. Our callouts, organizing and fighting cannot stop with the closing ceremony. We must re-examine how policies in sports exclude Black people, are reliant on archaic protocols and perpetuate racism. Corporations and institutions that support Black athletes must support the communities they represent. Carrying the long legacy of sports activism, Black athletes during this Olympics are bringing racial justice with them into the arena. It’s time we support them to ensure their wellbeing and rights are taken seriously by sports organizations.
The International Olympic Committee’s underlying threat to athletes — present and future — remains in Rule 50: an anti-protest regulation that prohibits “demonstration or political, religious and racial propaganda.” Amendments to the rule have banned raised fists, kneeling and “Black lives matter” on clothing, blatantly targeting Black athletes. With no specific consequences listed for breaking the rule, the IOC is able to bolster its own power in implementing any form of retaliation based on different athletes. If an athlete wants to appeal any retaliation from the IOC, they must work through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is also run by members of the IOC. Rule 50 is a direct attack on athletes’ political power and completely stifles the right to expression and protest after one of the most politicized years in modern history — and eliminates any chance at a fair review of any appeal.
The movement for racial justice in 2020 gained international support and people around the world recognize how anti-Black policies and practices in the United States chip away at the country’s promise of freedom and justice. Sports activism has consistently and historically helped propel these conversations into unconventional spaces, and the Olympics is a medium to continue to call out racist policies and institutions. On such a platform, Black athletes especially need our support, now more than ever, to address the issues that jeopardize the wellbeing of our communities.
The long history of sports activism has been instrumental in historic social movements — and the International Olympic Committee knows this. Rule 50 and other targeted attacks against Black athletes are blatant attempts to curtail the much-needed progress for equity in sports.
In order to achieve true justice for Black athletes, we must push against the decision-making institutions that enact anti-Black policies. Putting an end to these outdated policies opens the door for diverse accessibility in sports and an equitable playing field with better conditions for Black athletes.