23rd June 2020

CCES Position Statement on Freedom of Expression and the IOC’s Rule 50

The CCES steadfastly supports freedom of expression for every participant in the Olympic and Paralympic Games and calls upon the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to amend Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. Rule 50 states that, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

In their Rule 50 Guidelines, the IOC Athletes’ Commission extends the prohibition from “propaganda” to “protests and demonstrations.” It gives examples of what would constitute “protests”: displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands; gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling; refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol; and any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations. Thus, kneeling to signify Black Lives Matter, wearing a red scarf or shawl to bring attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, or carrying a rainbow flag to indicate opposition to homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia would contravene the rule.

Freedom of expression is recognized as a fundamental human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This right is widely recognized as fundamental to societal and individual well-being.

Freedom of expression is also recognized as a fundamental freedom under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international human rights commitments (e.g., the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). It includes the right to speak as well as the right to not say anything. The purposes of the protection of this freedom are open democracy, the pursuit of truth, and individual self-actualization.

Freedom of expression is legitimately limited only where the expression undermines the very purposes of the protection, e.g., advocating genocide or hate propaganda. Expression includes any activity or communication that conveys or attempts to convey meaning and therefore includes, e.g., saying something, raising a fist, kneeling, or wearing slogans or symbols on clothing.

Given Canada’s constitutional values and international human rights commitments, it is the position of the CCES that the IOC should amend Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter to protect freedom of expression as recognized under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights limiting only expression that undermines the very purposes of protecting the freedom.

• This media release was published by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) on 23 June 2020. Click here for the original.

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