TOKYO (Reuters) – World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe said on Thursday he believes athletes should have the right to make gestures of political protest during the Olympic Games, contrary to official International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy.
Coe, a vocal supporter of athletes’ right to protest, made his comment during a tour of the National Stadium in Tokyo, newly built for the 2020 summer Olympic Games now scheduled to be held in the city next year.
Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, calls have increased this year for a change to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans any form political protest during the Games.
“I have been very clear; if an athlete wishes to take a knee on a podium, then I am supportive of that,” said Coe. “Athletes are a part of the world and they want to reflect the world they live in. For me, that is perfectly acceptable.”
Earlier this year, the IOC said it was opening dialogue with athletes on the issue.
Thursday marked the first time Coe has visited the stadium, due to host opening and closing ceremonies as well as athletics events, since it was completed last December.
In March, the IOC and the Japanese government decided to postpone the Games until next year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coe, who is meeting Tokyo 2020 and local government officials later on Thursday, said his team was confident that the Games can be held safely next year.
World Athletics has also sent a team to the northern Japanese city of Sapporo, which will host the marathon and race walking events, to aid organisers in developing COVID-19 precautions.
“This isn’t about coming for any assurances,” Coe stressed.
“It is to restate our commitment to working very closely with the organising committee here to share our learnings … we are in complete collaboration.”
“There may have to be some adaptations, there may have to be some differences, but I am absolutely convinced that even under those circumstances it will still be a fantastic Games.”
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)