12 June 2020

Is kneeling forbidden in International Games?

The world of sport has shown its sorrow when tragic events have occurred, but, as a rule, sportsmen cannot protest for any reason through protests or by carrying any slogan.

In the wake of the death of the American George Floyd, a wave of anti-racism demonstrations has spread to many countries around the world. No one official competition lets athletes to protest, in this case by kneeling.

The Commonwealth Games on Thursday confirmed that it will allow athletes to kneel in protest within the sports facilities where it will take place in 2022 in Birmingham, England.

"The movement is challenging all institutions to really look introspectively at what we can do to be more fair, more free, have better equality. Sport is no different", said Commonwealth Games chief executive David Grevemberg. "We maybe have more responsibility because of the shared history of the Commonwealth so we need to find solutions that don't build walls but rather build bridges.

On the other hand, in other similar competitions, such as the Olympic Games, protest actions by athletes are prohibited. In particular, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) prohibits protests and demonstrations during the Games at the Olympic venues, as well as at the venues where the sports events will be held, the Olympic residences, or during the ceremonies.

What would constitute a protest?

The IOC issued a three-page statement (Rule 50 Guidelines) in January 2020 explaining which gestures are considered protests, including the following: 

- Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands.

- Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling.

- Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol. 

"In conclusion, these guidelines have been developed with the aim that each and every one of you can enjoy the experience of the Olympic Games without any divisive disruption", ends the communication.

Grevemberg recalls that this is not the first time that there will be protests at a Commonwealth Games, citing the example of sprinter Cathy Freeman at the 1994 Games when she showed an Australian Aboriginal flag after winning her 200 and 400m races. She showed again the Aboriginal flag at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The last known case of kneeling during an international competition occurred in August 2019 in the Pan American Games in Peru when the American fencer Race Imboden had knelt after receiving his medal.

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