Coe, who was in the Japanese capital inspecting the venue where Olympic track and field will be contested, gave his approval with the caveat protests are carried out with “respect” for other competitors.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Rule 50.2, forbids demonstrations or political, religious or racial propaganda in games venues.
A group of track and field athletes said in August they had been oppressed and denied the “right” to open public dissent for too long, demanding the IOC retire the rule for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Athletics Association said it’s a “unified and independent voice for elite track and field athletes around the world,” arguing the restriction prevents athletes from exercising their demand to “peacefully protest against social injustices in the world.”
“For too long athletes have been powerless and without a real voice,” members of the association’s board, led by two-time Olympic gold medalist triple-jumper Christian Taylor, said in a statement.
Now Coe is willing to back down and support a move that will harken back to the Mexico Games in 1968.
“I’ve been very clear that if an athlete wishes to take the knee on a podium then I’m supportive of that,” Coe told reporters in Tokyo.
“The athletes are a part of the world and they want to reflect the world they live in,” he added. “And that is for me perfectly acceptable, as long as it is done with complete respect for other competitors, which I think most athletes properly understand.”
As recently as last January the IOC President Thomas Bach was saying the ban would stay. At the time a host of athletes came out and condemned the decision, with U.S. Women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe for one saying she and her fellow athlete protesters “will not be silenced.”
“They (the Olympics) are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends,” Bach said at a meeting for the heads of international sports federations. “Our political neutrality is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be.”
“Our solidarity-based model is not for sale,” Bach concluded. Now it appears everything will be on the table at the Tokyo Olympics.
The capitulation by the Olympic movement means spectators and those watching remotely will be subjected to on-field protests by competitors on the field and on the podium.
Recent examples of such protests have been seen at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the swimming world championships and the Pan-American Games as well as mainstream sporting events in the U.S. and across Europe. ✪