The Canadian Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission (COC AC) recently shared its recommendations for Rule 50 as part of the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission (IOC AC) consultation process with athletes from around the world.  The COC AC consulted with the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission and other Athletes’ Commissions to inform its approach and process to gauge the views of Canadian athletes and determine its recommendations.

What is Rule 50?

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter provides a framework to protect the neutrality of sport and the Olympic Games and prevent divisive disruptions such as protests and demonstrations. It states that:

  • Except as may be authorised by the IOC Executive Board on an exceptional basis, no form of advertising or other publicity shall be allowed in and above the stadia, venues and other competition areas which are considered as part of the Olympic sites. Commercial installations and advertising signs shall not be allowed in the stadia, venues or other sports grounds.
  • No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.

The purpose of Rule 50:

The focus at the Olympic Games must remain on athletes’ performances, sport and the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance.

Athletes at the Olympic Games are part of a global community with many different views, lifestyles and values. The mission of the Olympic Games to bring the entire world together can facilitate the understanding of different views, but this can be accomplished only if everybody respects this diversity.

It is a fundamental principle that sport is neutral and must be separate from political, religious or any other type of interference. Specifically, the focus for the field of play and related ceremonies must be on celebrating athletes’ performance, and showcasing sport and its values.

Examples of what constitutes a protest include:
• Displaying any political messaging, including signs or armbands
• Gestures of a political nature, like a hand gesture or kneeling
• Refusal to follow the Ceremonies protocol.

Athletes are welcome to express their views during press conferences, at team meetings, and on media platforms, whether digital or traditional.

COC’s recommendations to amend Rule 50

The COC AC undertook a three-pronged consultation process consisting of one-on-one athlete outreach, a public webinar and Q&A open to all National Team athletes as well as a survey distributed to all Canadian athletes through, and in concert with, AthletesCAN. With the results indicating Canadian athletes’ views spread across a spectrum from maintaining Rule 50 in its current form to its complete abolition, recommendations were only made in instances where there was a clear majority:

1. Establish two separate rules when expressing views: One regarding expressions through commercial matters such as emblems, advertising and commercial installations and the other regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Propaganda.

2. Clearly define the terms used within Rule 50 including what constitutes a Demonstration or “Protest” or “Propaganda.”

3. Establish provisions for what is viewed as an acceptable Demonstration based on the values and principles of Olympism.

4. Establish clear parameters for an acceptable Demonstration that is peaceful and respectful of other athletes and countries.

5. Maintain and/or establish neutral or protected spaces that allow for a peaceful Demonstration that do not interfere with competition.

6. Clearly define and outline the consequences and the “degrees of violation” around Demonstration, Protest and Propaganda.

7. Explore other opportunities to meaningfully celebrate unity and inclusion by taking a stand against racism and discrimination.

“Based on our findings, our recommendations focus on asking for more clarity and advocating for the IOC Athletes’ Commission to explore and define meaningful ways to peacefully protest or demonstrate while respecting other athletes and countries, ensuring non-interference with competition and protecting from demonstrations contrary to the values of Olympism or that are otherwise harmful, misleading, discriminatory or based on hate,” said two-time Olympian and COC AC chair Oluseyi Smith. “We will continue to work closely with the IOC Athletes’ Commission and encourage all Canadian athletes to participate in their global survey launching this fall.”

The full report by the COC Athletes’ Commission on their recommendations for Rule 50 can be found here.