New IOC guidelines on political expression

Human rights activists warn against muzzling in the course of the Olympic Games in China

Image: Miachel Pollak via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), the new guidelines of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on political expressions in the course of the Olympic Games are unrealistic and incapacitating. "The upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in February 2022 might become a complete disaster for the IOC. The Olympic Games will take place in a country that commits crimes against humanity and genocide crimes against its own population," explained Ulrich Delius, the STP's director, in Göttingen on Wednesday. In China, several Uyghur and Kazakh athletes have been detained in re-education camps, solely on the basis of their faith and ethnic origin. "This is a gross violation of the Olympic spirit. It is undemocratic and reactionary to suppress criticism like this," Delius emphasized.

Last week, the IOC had published new restrictive guidelines on political expression in the course of the Olympic Games. The new guidelines explicitly prohibit protests or political gestures during the medal ceremonies or the opening and closing ceremonies. "Clearly, the IOC sees these often courageous gestures as a problem, not as an opportunity to renew the Olympic spirit and make the Olympic Games, which are under increasing criticism, more popular again," Delius added.

Thus, the STP recalled the case of the marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia, who crossed his arms at the finish line of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, in order to draw attention to the oppression of the Oromo population group in his home country. As a consequence of the much-noticed gesture of protest, the athlete received death threats and was unable to return to his home country for years. Nonetheless, he became a national hero of Ethiopia and a symbol of peaceful resistance against oppression. His gesture resulted in a massive boost to the democracy movement, which eventually contributed to the democratic opening of the country. In October 2018, Lilesa was able to return to Ethiopia, and in April 2019, the new Ethiopian leadership honored him for his services to the democratization of the country.

Image via Flickr.