Fact Check-All political demonstrations are banned under Olympic rules

Claims on social media that Japan has banned Black Lives Matter apparel, kneeling, or raising fists for their upcoming Olympic Games are missing context. Banning Olympic athletes from participating in acts of protest and acts of solidarity is an International Olympic Committee (IOC) rule not specific to Japan.

Examples of posts shared on social media users praising the misinformation can be seen here with a user commenting, “So proud Japan is taking a stand!’ A Facebook post calling the ban on “BLM apparel from the 2020 olympics” by Japan “brilliant” can be seen here .

The International Olympic Committee regularly publishes a charter with governing guidelines for the Olympic games. Ahead of this year’s Tokyo Games, the committee chose to continue to implement Rule 50, described by the Olympic governing body as a rule protecting the neutrality of the sport and the games. Rule 50 is viewable in the most recent charter, in force as of July 2020, seen (page 90) along with previous Olympic Charter versions.

The Olympic guidance in Rule 50 states that unless there are specific exceptions by the IOC’s executive board “no form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed” in Olympic sites. Part two of the guidelines directly prohibits “demonstration or political, religious, or racial propaganda in Olympic venues. “

The guidance is further explained in a document titled “Rule 50 Explained” seen, here . It does not explicitly target Black Lives Matter (BLM) or any other group, religion, culture, or ideology.

It is also not a new rule nor was it created in response to Black Lives Matter protests. Rule 50 can be seen referenced in guidance from the 2018 Olympic Charter, seen here .

However, the rule has not always been followed by athletes and other attendees. The Olympics have a long history of protests, documented by Time Magazine here here .

One of the most memorable examples occurred during the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, when African-American track and field athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith each appeared on the podium to receive their gold and bronze medals wearing black socks, Afrocentric beads, and a single black glove (here). The two, who raised their fists in solidarity with black people amidst the U.S. civil rights movement at the time, were expelled from the Olympic village (here).

U.S. hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who was sanctioned in 2019 for a raising a fist at the 2019 Pan American Games, discussed by the Washington Post (here) made headlines when she repeated the protest by raising a symbolic fist during Tokyo 2020 Olympic trials on June 24, 2021 (here).

The International Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.


Missing context. The Olympic Charter, not Olympics 2020 host Japan, bans demonstrations and political, religious, or racial propaganda during the competition. The rule is not directly targeted at Black Lives Matter.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .