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Political Pins (And Other Gestures) At The Tokyo Olympics


Two Chinese gold medal cyclists, Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi, were given a warning by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after an investigation. The cyclists wore pins on the Olympic podium embellished with outlines of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. This was deemed as political propaganda, which is banned by rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, stating that no “political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Subsequently, China has assured that they will prevent future gold medallists from wearing Mao Zedong pins on the podium.

Enforceability of Rule 50

For the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC has relaxed the enforcement of rule 50. Thus, on July 26, Costa Rican gymnast, Luciana Alvarado, incorporated a fist pump into the air at the end of her floor routine to signify her recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was deemed a ‘loophole’ to the rule as gymnasts had freedom of expression during their routine. However, the rule remains strict on the podium.

This is demonstrated by Raven Saunders, US shot-putter, who almost faced a sanction as she crossed her arms into an 'X' above her head on the podium, representing “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” However, the investigation was suspended by the IOC due to the death of Saunders’ mother.

Yet, has the IOC always been so attentive in enforcing rule 50?

In 2008, Lin Dan wore a small golden Mao pin during the men’s singles badminton final, who himself was inspired by Kong Linghui, another Chinese badminton player who won gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. In 2008, Lin stated that “Kong wore a badge featuring Chairman Mao as he claimed gold. So I hope Chairman Mao can also bring me some power this time.” At the time, no action was taken by the IOC.

Why the attentiveness now? The IOC revised rule 50 in light of the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 following George Floyd’s killing. This aimed to prevent the Olympics from becoming a political spectacle. However, this may be futile as Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, predicts a “triumphal Chinese communist spectacle” at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 due to China’s recent crackdown on human rights.

This prompts the question: Is rule 50 still relevant and effective?


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