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To what extent is rule 50 of the Olympic charter valid? Balancing athletes freedom of expression and the mythical political neutrality of sport

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Abstract

The right to freedom of speech and expression is a widely proclaimed right but far less protected, especially in the sporting arena. The compulsion to maintain political neutrality and autonomy of sports have resulted in various impediments to athlete’s freedom of speech and expression in sport. This right is restricted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. Rule 50(2) prohibits any demonstration or political, racial and religious propaganda in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. Athletes with their expression, have the power to inspire. However, in the name of political neutrality, athletes who inspired generations with their protest against racial injustice, from John Carlos, Tommie Smith to Colin Kaepernick, faced suspensions for such activism. This paper analyses and questions the limitation imposed by Rule 50 on athletes to right to freedom of speech and expression. It is argued that the principle of political neutrality should not reign supreme over athlete’s right to freedom of speech and expression. In doing so, the paper contributes to the existing literature by substantially analysing the theoretical reasoning for protection of this right with in-depth analysis of the application of the proportionality principle that justifies the restrictions imposed on freedom of expression in a sporting context. From a policy perspective, the paper suggests for revision of Rule 50 and implementation of a remedy process mechanism to promote Olympics goal to further human rights and bring a positive reform.

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Notes

  1. Oster (2017).

  2. Stone and Schauer (2021).

  3. Article 10, Human Rights Act, 1998; First Amendment, US Constitution; Article 19(1)(a), The Constitution of India, 1950.

  4. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), article19; European Convention on Human Rights (1950), article10; Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), article 19.

  5. Oster (2017).

  6. IOC (2020).

  7. Global Athlete (2020).

  8. IOC (2020a); IOC (2021).

  9. IOC (2021a), Rule 50.2 Guidelines - Olympic Winter Games Beijing.

  10. Marco (2022).

  11. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, p.64.

  12. Lindholm (2017), p.2.

  13. McGinty (2017). Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, National Football League [NFL] players kneeled down while the U.S. national anthem was playing during a NFL match in August, 2016. Their protest was against the oppression of people of colour in the US. They received wide backlash for their protest and subsequently were not contracted in the NFL.

  14. IOC (2020).

  15. According to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC), the protest by athlete Raven Saunders did not violate Rule 50 as such was a peaceful statement in favor of racial and social injustice. For peaceful demonstration at the Olympics and Paralympics, it was decided by the USOPC that it will not sanction athletes. Hart (2021); Pavitt (2020).

  16. Tesón (1985).

  17. First Amendment, US Constitution states that the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  18. Commission on China (2023).

  19. IOC (2020a) p.1.

  20. Schachter (1950-1951), p.652.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Abanazir (2022), p. 79.

  24. Barendt (2007).

  25. Abanazir (2022); Madalin (2017).

  26. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943); Bennett Coleman v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788, para 157.

  27. Raz (1991).

  28. Mill (1859), pp. 228-229.

  29. Ibid; Bhatia (2016).

  30. See Barendt (2007) c.f. Marshall identifies many flaws in Mills theory. The implausibility of the claim that freedom of speech is a mechanism for producing truth; the problems of public irrationality and apathy in a ‘post-truth’ age; and, most fundamentally, the difficulties in identifying the normative appeal of truth itself, especially in circumstances in which it causes harm.

  31. Coonan (2010).

  32. Bell (2021), p.167.

  33. Mill (1859), pp. 228-229.

  34. Richards (1974).

  35. Howie (2017), p.13.

  36. See, Clarey (2021).

  37. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

  38. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966).

  39. European Convention on Human Rights (1950).

  40. Triggs (2011).

  41. IOC Rule 50.2 Guidelines - Tokyo Olympic Guidelines (2020).

  42. Di Marco (2021), p.623.

  43. Schwab (2018), pp. 172-173.

  44. James NAR (2004).

  45. Foster (2006), pp. 420-421.

  46. Siekmann (2011), p. 6-7.

  47. Lindholm (2019), p.9.

  48. See, e.g., Siekmann (2011), p. 6.

  49. See, Lindholm (2019). Similarly, the vast majority of arbitrators appointed at CAS are from western countries. Empirical analysis shows that there is an underrepresentation of developing countries on the CAS panel of arbitrators. See also, Star (2022); Star and Kelly (2021).

  50. Schwab (2018), pp. 172-173.

  51. Lane (2018).

  52. IOC (2020), Rule 44 Bye-law 6 and Rule 61 of the Olympic Charter.

  53. Duval (2022).

  54. Ibid; Faut (2014); Schwab (2018).

  55. IOC (2020), Rule 44 Bye-law 6 and Rule 61 of the Olympic Charter.

  56. Fuentes Bobo v. Spain, 39293/98, judgment of 29 February 2000, para 38.

  57. Özgur Gundem v. Turkey, 23144/93, judgement of 16 March 2000, para 43.

  58. Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, app. no. 40575/10 & 67474/10, Third Section, Judgment of 2 October 2018.

  59. Ibid at 113-115; Ali Riza & Others v. Turkey, 30226/10, judgement of 22 June 2020, para 175-181.

  60. CAS 2014/A/3516 award of 6 October 2014.

  61. Alexandra Shelton v. Polish Olympic Committee (POC) & Polish Fencing Federation, award of 28 September 2020, para 113.

  62. See, Semenya v. Switzerland, application no. 10934/21; Raja Club Athletic v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), [2019] Court of arbitration of sport 2019/A/6345.

  63. Katusha Management SA v. UCI, [2013] Court of arbitration of sport 2012/A/3031, para 68.

  64. Faut (2014).

  65. Ibid.

  66. Dryden and Star (2023), p.132.

  67. Carbone (2012).

  68. Boog (2013).

  69. Berg (1999), pp. 114-145.

  70. P.A, No. 10623/AER/ACS, 1140.

  71. Carbone (2012).

  72. International Olympic Committee v. Misha Aloian, CAS anti-doping Division (OG Rio) AD 16/011, para. 36.

  73. Rigozzi (2020).

  74. Ibid.

  75. Ibid.

  76. CAS Ad hoc Division Arbitration Rules for the Olympic Games, article 7.

  77. CAS 2016/O/4469, award of 29 November 2016, para. 170.

  78. IOC (2017).

  79. Heerdt (2018).

  80. Ibid; Duval (2022).

  81. Ibid.

  82. IOC (2022).

  83. Thiel et al (2016).

  84. Witynksi (2022). It is to be noted that there were no boycotts by the teams.

  85. Wetzel (2022).

  86. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, Fifth fundamental principle of Olympics, p.11.

  87. IOC (2013).

  88. Næss (2018).

  89. Hoberman (1986).

  90. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, Fifth fundamental principle of Olympics, p.11.

  91. Ibid.

  92. Boykoff (2017).

  93. Lindholm (2022).

  94. Kidd (2013).

  95. Thakur (2019).

  96. Llewelly (2015).

  97. Ibid.

  98. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, Rule 55, p.95.

  99. IOC (2023).

  100. Elsborg (2020).

  101. Coonan (2008).

  102. Ibid.

  103. Chanda et al. (2021).

  104. Elsborg (2020).

  105. Boykoff (2017).

  106. Elsborg (2020).

  107. Gunia (2022).

  108. Ibid.

  109. James and Osborn (2023).

  110. IOC (2020); Bruton (2020).

  111. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, Article 6.

  112. Siekmann (2012).

  113. Goretti (2022).

  114. Gunia (2022).

  115. Ibid.

  116. Singh and Anand (2022).

  117. Goretti (2022).

  118. Houlihan (1991).

  119. International Paralympic Committee (2022).

  120. Bach (2022).

  121. Goretti (2022).

  122. Kidd (2013); Boykoff (2017).

  123. Abanazir (2022).

  124. Bell (2021). It is to be noted that the limits to freedom of expression contained in Article 10 of the ECHR will be dealt in section 4 of this paper. Mill's harm principle is used to challenge the political neutrality principle, which is not a limit specified in Article 10. It examines the principle of political neutrality on the theoretical arguments presented in Mill's theory of harm.

  125. Ibid.

  126. Abanazir (2022).

  127. Rawls (2005), p.19.

  128. Rawls (2001), pp.21-45.

  129. Dworkin (1981).

  130. UNHRC (2018).

  131. Futterman et al. (2021).

  132. Welton (2021).

  133. The Indian Express (2021).

  134. Press Trust of India (2021); India Today (2021).

  135. IOC (2020a).

  136. IOC (2021).

  137. BBC News (2019).

  138. Goretti (2022).

  139. Hart (2021); Pavitt (2020)

  140. James (2021). James and Osborn (2023) notes prior to Tokyo 2020, unacceptable gestures included taking a knee, raising a fist or wearing a black armband.

  141. Boykoff (2017).

  142. Sakki and Hakokongas (2020).

  143. Dryden (2020); James (2021).

  144. This is because Rule 50 prohibits for “any political propaganda”. Therefore, regardless of whether the gestures portray patriotism or protest, convey a negative (making statement about discrimination), or express a positive (celebrating a nation), they should be sanctioned equally.

  145. James and Osborn (2023).

  146. Di Marco (2020); Dryden (2020); James (2021).

  147. Boykoff (2021); Lindholm (2017).

  148. Tomizawa (2016).

  149. Daley (1968).

  150. Ibid.

  151. Boykoff (2016).

  152. Cady (1969).

  153. Di Marco (2021).

  154. Boykoff (2016).

  155. Ibid.

  156. Staniforth (2012).

  157. Ibid.

  158. Paterson (2009).

  159. Weiler (2000).

  160. IOC (2020), Olympic Charter, p.11.

  161. The Indian Express (2022).

  162. IOC (2022).

  163. Lindholm (2022).

  164. Schwab (2018).

  165. Martin (2016).

  166. McGinty (2017).

  167. c.f. Dignity can serve both as a means to protect freedom of expression and a means to limit it. Dignitarian arguments also justify limits on freedom of speech where that speech violates human dignity.

  168. Goh (2021).

  169. Pertrov (1982).

  170. Vladimir Velichkin v. Belarus, 1022/2001, judgement of 23 November 2005, para 7.3.

  171. ICCPR (2011); Pernicek v. Switzerland, 27510/08, judgement of 15 October, 2015, para 131.

  172. Pernicek v. Switzerland, 27510/08, judgement of 15 October, 2015, para 133.

  173. ICCPR (2011).

  174. ECHR, Sunday Times v United Kingdom, 6538/74, judgement of 26 April 1979, para 49.

  175. ICCPR (2011).

  176. Salevao (2005).

  177. James (2021).

  178. Dou (2022).

  179. IOC (2020).

  180. Ibid.

  181. Faut (2014).

  182. Karastelev & Others v. Russia, 16435/10, judgement of 06 October 2021, para 78-97.

  183. Ibid.

  184. ICCPR (2011).

  185. Steel v. Morris, 68416/01, judgment of 15 February 2005, para 85-98.

  186. Otegi Mondragon v. Spain, 2034/07, judgment of 15 March 2011, para 47.

  187. Cobb (2018).

  188. See, Alexis (2003). The principle of proportionality consists of three sub-principles: the principle of suitability, of necessity, and of proportionality in the narrow sense.

  189. Dikj PV et al. (1998).

  190. Tsakyrakis (2009).

  191. Gorzelik & Others v. Poland, 44158/98, judgment of 17 February 2007, para 94-105.

  192. Alexis (2003), p.145.

  193. [2019] Court of Arbitration for Sport 2018/A/6007, award of 18 July 2019.

  194. Alexis (2003), p.145.

  195. Goh (2021).

  196. Abanazir (2022), p. 131 argues that “the interests of the sports organization would outweigh the individual rights of an athlete. Such would be the case even if adjudicatory bodies find a solution to the questions of the quantification of rights and interests along with the commensurability thereof.”

  197. Handyside v. the United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights, 5493/72, judgement of 7 December 1976.

  198. Barendt (2007).

  199. Schauer (1983), p.1295.

  200. Mill (1859).

  201. Maese (2019).

  202. It is to be noted that unpopular speech does not mean speech that directly incites violence, acts of sheer cruelty, humiliation, etc.

  203. Madalin (2017).

  204. Stone and Schauer (2021).

  205. Abanazir (2022).

  206. Dworkin (2009).

  207. See, for instance, Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom, 48420/10 and others, judgement of 15 January 2013.

  208. ICCPR (2011).

  209. To decide the correct forum for dealing with human rights issue would warrant an separate in-depth analysis considering various other factors and therefore is outside the scope of this paper.

  210. West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), para 641–642.

  211. Thompson (2021).

References

Cases Cited

  • Alexandra Shelton v. Polish Olympic Committee (POC) & Polish Fencing Federation, award of 28 September 2020

  • Ali Riza & Others v. Turkey, 30226/10, judgement of 22 June 2020

  • Bennett Coleman v. Union of India, (1972) 2 SCC 788

  • Eweida and Others v. the United Kingdom, 48420/10 and others, judgement of 15 January 2013

  • Fuentes Bobo v. Spain, 39293/98, judgment of 29 February 2000

  • George Yerolimpos v. World Karate Federation (WKF), CAS 2014/A/3516 award of 06 October 2014

  • Gorzelik & Others v. Poland, 44158/98, judgment of 17 February 2007

  • Handyside v. the United Kingdom, European Court of Human Rights, 5493/72, judgement of 7 December 1976

  • International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) v. All Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) & Tatyana Chernova, CAS 2016/O/4469, award of 29 November 2016

  • International Olympic Committee v. Misha Aloian, CAS anti-doping Division (OG Rio) AD 16/011

  • Jibril Rajoub v. FIFA, [2019] Court of Arbitration for Sport 2018/A/6007, award of 18 July 2019

  • Karastelev & Others v. Russia, 16435/10, judgement of 06 October 2021

  • Katusha Management SA v. UCI, [2013] Court of arbitration of sport 2012/A/3031

  • Mutu and Pechstein v. Switzerland, app. no. 40575/10 & 67474/10, Third Section, judgment of 2 October 2018

  • Otegi Mondragon v. Spain, 2034/07, judgment of 15 March 2011

  • Özgur Gundem v. Turkey, 23144/93, judgement of 16 March 2000

  • Pernicek v. Switzerland, 27510/08, judgement of 15 October 2015

  • Raja Club Athletic v. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), [2019] Court of arbitration of sport 2019/A/6345

  • Sahm Costruttoris, P.A, No. 10623/AER/ACS, 1140

  • Semenya v. Switzerland, application no. 10934/21

  • Steel v. Morris, 68416/01, judgment of 15 February 2005

  • Sunday Times v United Kingdom, 6538/74, judgement of 26 April 1979

  • Vladimir Velichkin v. Belarus, 1022/2001, judgement of 23 November 2005

  • West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Conventions

  • European Convention on Human Rights [ECHR] (1950)

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] (1966)

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR] (1948)

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge and thank Prof. Shaun Star for his feedback and advice throughout the preparation of this paper. The author is also thankful to Prof. Nakul Nayak, Ms. Nikki Dryden and Ms. Surbhi Kuwelker for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

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Modi, T. To what extent is rule 50 of the Olympic charter valid? Balancing athletes freedom of expression and the mythical political neutrality of sport. Int Sports Law J 23, 368–389 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40318-023-00249-2

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