World Athletics supports the right of athletes to protest

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Participants in the postponed Tokyo-2020 Olympics should have the right to protest in a “respectful” manner, said Thursday the president of the International Athletics Federation (World Athletics) Sebastian Coe, thus fueling a sensitive debate.

This topic has gained momentum in the context of massive protests following the May death in the United States of George Floyd, a black man who was killed by a white policeman.

“I made it clear that if an athlete wanted to drop to one knee on the podium (in protest against racial inequalities, editor’s note), he had my full support,” said Mr. Coe on the occasion of an inspection of the National Olympic Stadium which will host the athletics events at the Olympics, postponed to the summer of 2021 due to the coronavirus.

“Athletes want to reflect the world they live in,” he added, when asked about the possibility of protests at the Games.

“To me that’s totally okay, as long as it’s done with complete respect for other competitors, and I think most athletes understand that.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) updated its rules on athlete activism in January, banning all forms of protest from podiums and athletic fields.

But the IOC has suggested it is ready to soften its stance, and supports discussions by the Olympic Athletes’ Commission to authorize “dignified” ways to support action against racism.

In June, American athletes and 1968 Mexico City Games icon John Carlos, who was excluded at the time for raising his fist against racial segregation, called on the IOC to remove the rules banning athletes from manifesting their political views, religious or racial during the Games.

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics are also faced with many other headaches.

They are working in particular on measures to organize the event even if the pandemic is not under control, hoping to convince athletes, spectators and the Japanese population that the Games can take place in complete safety.

“There will undoubtedly be adjustments to be made (…) but I am absolutely convinced that even under these circumstances it will be a fantastic Games,” Coe said Thursday.

Referring to the new world records set the day before in Valencia (Spain) in the men’s 10,000m and women’s 5,000m, he said the athletes had “handled the pandemic months very well” and were eager to go to Tokyo on next year.

“They went through extremely difficult circumstances, many had to stay at home for months. But they were able to keep themselves in very good physical condition, ”he said.

“It bodes well for performances next year (in Tokyo, NLDR). I think athletics will be at its peak ”.

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