Wasserman, chairman of the local organizing committee for the Los Angeles Olympics, in a June 19 letter to IOC President Thomas Bach said “racism against the Black community has gone on far too long without systemic support and tangible actions from the global sport community.”
June 19, or Juneteenth, commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which the IOC says is designed to protect the neutrality of the Olympic movement and sport, states: “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial
propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”
Wasserman in the letter said condemning racism isn’t enough, and that the Olympic movement must actively work to fight it.
“We can start now by having the IOC amend the guidelines that support Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter to allow anti-racist advocacy on the Olympic stage,’’ he wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Sportico.
A spokeswoman for LA28 declined to comment on the letter, which was also sent to the IOC executive board.
A spokesman for the IOC said the organization doesn’t comment on private correspondence. More broadly, however, he said the IOC supports athletes exploring ways Olympians can express their support for principles in “a dignified way” during the Games. He declined further comment.
The subject of athletes and advocacy has exploded since the police killing of George Floyd in late May.
NBA players, coaches and referees, for instance, took a knee in a coordinated action last night as the league resumed play after the COVID-19 pause.
Moreover, players from the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans, who participated in the first game back, wore shirts emblazoned with “Black Lives Matter.’’
The NBA’s resumption came about two weeks after the death of Congressman John Lewis, who spent a lifetime battling racial injustice.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he would not enforce a league rule that calls for players to stand during the National Anthem due to the unique circumstances surrounding this moment in history.
Wasserman, meantime, in the letter said he was counting on Bach’s leadership to make the right decision.
“Sport is not separate or clear of racism; it is a microcosm of our world where racism exists,’’ he wrote. “I urge you to allow and encourage athletes to advocate against racism anywhere they can, including on and off the field of play. With the power of sport we can start to make the world a better place, a more tolerant place. A safer place. A more inclusive place. It is up to all of us to enact change and create a future we want to see.”
Support for athletes kneeling during the anthem seems to have shifted since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick did so as a way to protest racial inequality and mistreatment of Blacks by the police.
Leagues as a whole are showing support for their advocacy. Wasserman said it’s time for that support to extend to the Olympics.
“The current Rule 50 guidelines state: `the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values,’ the letter says. “There is no better way to showcase the values of Olympians than by honoring the very values that bring us together. Being anti-racist is not political. Being anti-racist is central to our core human principles and, therefore, an embodiment of everything the Olympic Games symbolizes.”
The L.A. Olympics are scheduled to being in July of 2028. The Tokyo Games were pushed back to next year because of the pandemic. The 2024 Games are scheduled to be held in Paris.
(This story has been updated with comments from an IOC spokesman)