From John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s famous black power salute in 1968 to Peter O’Connor scaling a flagpole to wave the Irish flag in 1906, political statements have been woven into the fabric of the modern Games.
The stance surprised many given we’re an era that has witnessed an increase in the number of athletes using their platforms to take activist stances on a wide range of issues.
At last year’s Women’s World Cup, for example, as much of the coverage around the US Women’s National Team was about the players’ view of US President Donald Trump as it was their record-breaking exploits on the pitch.
Megan Rapinoe, who was one of the most vocal members of the USWNT throughout the World Cup and beyond, has criticized the IOC’s decision, writing on Instagram: “So much being done about the protests. So little being done about what we are protesting about. We will not be silenced.”
Rapinoe’s courage to speak out impressed two-time Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses.
“The president weighs in and tit-for-tat and doing all that during the during the World Cup.
“So she had a fantastic year and also she stood out as an individual who has taken a stand — it really means something in the world of sports,” added Moses, who is a Laureus Academy member.
‘Impossible to stop’
In August 2019, fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry were each placed on a 12-month probation by the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee for kneeling on the podium at the Pan American Games.
Despite the IOC’s ruling, Moses says he would encourage athletes to continue protesting in 2020 if they feel it is necessary.
“I think so, I think it’s a very personal individual choice to have to make,” said Moses. “I was not a fan [of protesting] mainly because of what happened 40 years ago, the boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow.
“John Carlos and Tommie Smith are both very good friends of mine … we talked about it, I think that what they did really was absolutely the right thing to do.”
The 64-year-old Moses, who won gold in the 400 meter hurdles at the 1976 and 1984 Games, believes the IOC’s attempt to clamp down on athletes will be futile.
“Now the athletes have so many resources, social media resources and so many ways that they can activate their brand, I think the IOC is really trying to tap down on their activities, which is going to be impossible to do,” he said.
“It’s probably going to happen. I think that there’s going to be athletes that figure this is my chance to, you know, perform and if I get to the podium, I’m going to do what I want to do and express the feelings that I want to express. It’s got to be impossible to stop.”
Rise in racism
Moses spent much of 2019 living in London and has become deeply concerned by the increase in racist incidents that have blighted European football this season.
High-profile cases in England, Italy and the Netherlands have served as ugly reminders that racism, a problem many believed had been consigned to the past in football, remains entrenched in the sport.
“I think it’s really atrocious,” Moses says. “The players have handled themselves very well and in certain places the fans really need to behave and really represent in the stands as a fan, what sports is all about, which is fairness, fair play, treating people with respect and dignity.
“If the fans can’t do that, they should just stay home; I’ve been disappointed in seeing that. I saw a lot of what was going on in Europe five, six, eight years ago and to see it resurface now really bothers me.”
One of the major talking points to emerge has been whether or not players should walk off the pitch if subjected to racist abuse.
It’s an issue that divides current and former black players but Moses would be fully supportive of those who felt abandoning the match would be the most powerful way of sending a message to those in the stands.
“I don’t have a problem with with someone leaving the field,” he says.
“Personally, I think if it’s that difficult a situation and it’s that audience, then I don’t have a problem with an athlete leaving the field because they are people, they’re human beings and the way that they’re treated is actually bigger than the game, the dignity that a human being respects is actually bigger than what happens on the field.”