Olympics head warns of ‘divisive’ athlete protests in Tokyo

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The president of the International Olympic Committee has warned athletes about political protests at the upcoming Games in Tokyo, calling on them to avoid “division” overshadowing the world. the world’s biggest sporting event.

Thomas Bach told the Financial Times that the games, which start next Friday, would be “by far the most complex and difficult ever” as they have been postponed for a year due to the pandemic and will take place only with strict rules. coronavirus-related restrictions.

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But the IOC boss, a former Olympic fencing champion for Germany, also wants to avoid controversy, saying he would not support athletes’ activism during the games’ most high-profile occasions.

β€œThe podium and the medals were not made. . . for a political or other demonstration,” Bach said. “They are made to honor the athletes and the medalists for their sporting achievements and not for their private life” [views].”

Japan’s Naomi Osaka wearing a facemask at the 2020 US Open draws attention to the shooting of African-American Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia Β© Al Bello/Getty Images

In the past year, amid a global reckoning over racial and social injustice, athletes have spearheaded protest movements.

European soccer players and American basketball players have β€œtaken the knee” for competitions in a gesture against racism. Naomi Osaka, the Japanese tennis star that Tokyo organizers hope to present as the global face of the games, is also an outspoken critic of police brutality.

In recent weeks, the IOC has modified its rules to allow for some dissent, such as at press conferences and on social media. But protests remain banned on the playing field, especially on medal podiums where one of the most famous athlete protests of all time – the raised fists of American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Games – took place.

“The mission is to bring the whole world together in one place and compete with each other peacefully,” Bach said. β€œYou would never get this done if the games de [became] division.”

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, is a former German fencing champion Β© Behrouz Mehri/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Olympic officials say privately it will be impossible to force dissent. Such acts have already taken place in the run-up to Tokyo, such as during a US Olympic trials last month when hammer thrower Gwen Berry turned his back on the US flag and draped a T-shirt over her head that read ‘Activist Athlete. ”

This week, the British women’s football team said they would get on their knees before the Olympics.

Political protests are just one of the tough issues facing organizers. The event is deeply unpopular with Tokyo residents, according to recent surveys. There has been public outcry in apparent cases of Olympic officials violating the rules for wearing masks in a city under a state of emergency for the Games.

About 11,000 Olympic and 4,400 Paralympic athletes will travel to the Japanese capital in the coming weeks, along with 41,000 coaches, judges and other officials. They will stay in a “bubble” away from the public of the city. Overseas visitors are prohibited and the action will take place without spectators in Tokyo’s expensively built stadiums.

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Bach defended the decision to continue the games with such restrictions, saying it would be a “huge showcase for Japan” for the billions who watch television, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of those. who participated.

He rejected the idea that the games would continue to protect broadcast and sponsorship revenues, which were worth $5.7 billion in the four years leading up to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC president said it would have made financial sense to cancel the games and rely on his pandemic insurance policies, but “we wouldn’t let the athletes down”.

In recent weeks, other major sporting events, such as the European football championships, the Wimbledon tennis tournament and even baseball games in Japan have been played in front of large crowds.

England footballers kneel before a Euro 2020 match Β© Justin Tallis/EPA/Shutterstock

Bach admitted he was “not happy” that the Japanese authorities have decided to ban spectators, but added: “We supported this decision . . . because we believe it is a responsible decision to ensure safe Olympics.” The event consists of 28 different sports that take place in 17 days across Japan.

To reduce the chance of a coronavirus outbreak, the IOC has signed agreements with pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the Chinese government to ensure that about 85 percent of athletes, coaches and team officials are vaccinated before their arrival in Tokyo. Organizers also plan to conduct hundreds of thousands of daily Covid-19 tests on athletes.

Bach said there was a complex plan that could involve multiple medals being awarded in an event disrupted by positive tests. In the scenario where an athlete was unable to participate in a final after a positive test or was forced into self-isolation, he would receive the lowest achievable rank in that final.

In martial arts such as boxing and karate, that can mean two athletes receive a silver medal – one for the person who qualified for the final but couldn’t participate, and the other for the athlete who actually lost the gold medal match. This would “do justice to” [both] athletes as one must be isolated,” he said.

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