(Reuters) – John Carlos, one of the two American Olympians who famously gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Mexico Games, is leading a call for rules banning athlete protests at the Olympics to be scrapped.
The 75-year-old former sprinter on Saturday joined with active American athletes to send a letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calling for the abolition of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans political protests.
“Athletes will no longer be silenced,” read the letter signed by Carlos and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s Athletes’ Advisory Council (USOPC AAC).
“We are now at a crossroads. The IOC and IPC cannot continue on the path of punishing or removing athletes who speak up for what they believe in, especially when those beliefs exemplify the goals of Olympism.”
Many sports organisations have embraced the Black Lives Matters campaign in recent months with players kneeling before competition in sympathy with anti-racism protests. Under Rule 50, that would not be allowed at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
The IOC said earlier this month that it would consult with athletes to “explore different ways for athletes to express support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic charter in a dignified way”.
Carlos, who had won bronze in the 200 metres, was expelled from the Mexico Olympics with gold medallist Tommie Smith after they raised their fists and lowered their heads during the playing of the U.S. national anthem.
“The Olympic and Paralympic movement simultaneously honors athletes like John Carlos and Tommie Smith … while prohibiting current athletes from following in their footsteps,” the USPOC AAC letter continued.
“Carlos and Smith risked everything to stand for human rights and what they believed in, and they continue to inspire generation after generation to do the same.”
The letter called for the IOC to develop a “new structure” that allowed freedom of expression on human rights issues that align with Olympic principles.
“Aligning with such principles will allow athletes to give the world hope beyond sport – hope that voices matter and are a powerful tool for change,” it said.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)