‘Olympics not marketplace of demonstrations'

IOC chief Bach says Games are not about politics, but ‘firstly about sport’

REUTERS October 24, 2020

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said the Olympic Games are not about politics and must guard against becoming a "marketplace of demonstrations".

Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement to protest racial injustice, calls have increased this year for a change to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which bans any form political protest during the Games.

World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe said earlier this month he believes athletes should have the right to make gestures of political protest during the Games, contrary to official IOC policy.

"The Olympic Games are firstly about sport. The athletes personify the values of excellence, solidarity and peace," Bach wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

"They express this inclusiveness and mutual respect also by being politically neutral on the field of play and during the ceremonies. At times this focus on sport needs to be reconciled with the freedom of speech all athletes also enjoy at the Games.

"The unifying power of the Games can only unfold if everyone shows respect for and solidarity to one another. Otherwise, the Games will descend into a marketplace of demonstrations of all kinds, dividing and not uniting the world."

Bach said he experienced the "political impotence" of sport when West Germany was among several countries to boycott the 1980 Moscow Games.

"As chair of the West German athletes' commission I strongly opposed this boycott because it punished us for something we had nothing to do with - the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet army," Bach, the winner of team fencing gold at Montreal 1976, wrote.

"It's no consolation that we were ultimately proven right that this boycott not only punished the wrong ones, but that it also had no political effect... the Soviet army stayed nine more years in Afghanistan.

"The Olympic Games are not about politics. The IOC, as a civil non-governmental organisation, is strictly politically neutral at all times."

The Covid-19 pandemic forced the IOC to delay this year's Tokyo Games until 2021. 

Tokyo finally opens Aquatics Centre

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike finally inaugurated on Saturday the Aquatics Centre for next year’s rescheduled Olympics, seven months after it was supposed to open.

The Aquatics Centre was due to officially open on March 22 but that event was cancelled over coronavirus fears. Two days later the entire Tokyo Games was postponed until 2021.

Organisers hope to welcome the world’s top swimmers and divers to the centre next year, as well as up to 15,000 fans. Organisers have yet to decide, however, whether supporters will be allowed into venues during the Games.

The opening ceremony, with hundreds of officials in attendance, struck a hopeful tone. Koike was keen to stress that the $523 million Aquatics Centre will benefit Tokyo residents as well as Olympic athletes.

The ceremony was followed by diving and swimming exhibitions by Japanese athletes, including RikakoIkee, whose battle back from leukaemia has been seen as a reflection of the Games’ own attempt at resurrection.

"There have been some unexpected things such as the postponement, but we need to hold a successful Games," Koike said.

"I really hope that the wonderful swimmers can unleash their powers and the world’s top swimmers exhibit great performances at this centre.

"By seeing Ikee in a healthy condition and her energetic swim (today), I have received courage."

All of Tokyo’s Olympic venues were built or renovated on schedule for the Games, ready if they had gone ahead this year.

Organisers are now focusing on how to stage the world’s biggest sporting event amid a pandemic next July.

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