Japan hasn’t banned Olympic athletes from taking the knee

22 June 2021
What was claimed

Japan has banned Black Lives Matter apparel and demonstrations such as taking the knee or raising a fist.

Our verdict

It is true that political, religious and racial protests are banned at Olympic sites and venues, but this applies to all such demonstrations, not just BLM. Japan did not make this decision—the rule has been in place for decades and is implemented by the International Olympic Committee.

A widely-shared post on Facebook claims that Japan has banned all Black Lives Matter (BLM) “apparel” from the Tokyo 2021 Olympics, and banned anyone in attendance from taking the knee or raising a fist in protest during the national anthems. 

It is true that these things are banned from the games, however this ban is not specific to BLM or to the Tokyo Olympics. Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”. 

A ban on athlete demonstrations has been in place for decades, with one of the most famous examples being the expulsion of two Black American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, from the Olympic village at the 1968 games after they raised their fists in protest whilst on the podium. 

It is inaccurate to say that Japan itself has banned BLM apparel or associated demonstrations. The Olympic Charter is set and adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a global organisation with 102 members from dozens of countries. 

As well as prohibiting demonstrations, Rule 50 bans commercial advertisements in an effort to ensure the neutrality of the games. 

In April 2021 the IOC’s Athletes’ Commission, published the results of a consultation on Rule 50, which involved more than 3,500 athletes. 

It found that a “clear majority of athletes said that it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play (70% of respondents), at official ceremonies (70% of respondents) or on the podium (67% of respondents).”

According to reporting by the Associated Press, the IOC said Rule 50 would apply to BLM apparel and demonstrations. The article states: “Raising a fist or kneeling for a national anthem could lead to punishment from the IOC.

“The IOC also said that slogans such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ will not be allowed on athlete apparel at Olympic venues, though it approved using the words ‘peace,’ ‘respect,’ ‘solidarity,’ ‘inclusion’ and ‘equality’ on T-shirts.” 

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as missing context because while it is true that BLM apparel and demonstrations are banned from Olympic venues or other official areas, this applied to all forms of demonstration or protest and Japan was not responsible for this decision.

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