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TOKYO — Earlier this week, the International Olympic Committee voted to slightly modify the longtime motto of the Games, making it more reflective of these COVID-19 times and, in the IOC's words, the unifying power of sport.
What was once "Faster, Higher, Stronger" — or Citius, Altius, Fortius in Latin — is now "Faster, Higher, Stronger — Together."
But that whole "together" thing had an exception, at least briefly.
Because on Wednesday in Tokyo, when members of five women's soccer teams kneeled together just before their respective matches in recognition of the continuing scourge of racism and racial inequity, and when the Australian women's team posed together with a flag of the country's indigenous people, the IOC left those moments out of the official highlight reels it compiled of those events, while Olympic social media channels did not include photos of them either.
Nothing says "we're all in this together" like pretending group demonstrations meant to foster unity and uplift the marginalized never happened.
But the IOC backtracked quickly, and said Thursday from Tokyo that any further kneeling protests will be shown on official channels.
It was just three weeks ago that the IOC eased Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, its longtime ban on protests of any kind. Teams and athletes may now make statements of protest, be they kneeling or raising a fist or something similar, during pre-game or pre-race introductions and press conferences, but not on the medal stand.
IOC head Thomas Bach told the Financial Times recently that he does not support athlete activism on the medals stand.
“The podium and the medal ceremonies are not done ... for a political or other demonstration,” Bach said. “They are made to honor athletes and medal winners for athletic achievement and not for their [views].
"The mission is to have the whole world united in one place and peacefully competing with each other. This would never be achieved if the games [became] divisive."
Ah, yes. The "divisiveness" of supporting the eradication of sustained, systemic degradation of a group of people solely because of the color of their skin.
As the IOC continues to pretend Black people demonstrating in protest of racism is so terrible, the group's museum in Switzerland, in a show of hypocrisy that is both brazen and unsurprising, now features a large photograph of the iconic image of Smith and Carlos. Their feet bare, heads bowed and black glove-clad fists raised into the Mexico City air on the podium after they'd placed first and second, respectively, in the 200 meters.
Given all that's swirling around these Tokyo Games — from city residents not wanting them to happen to Japanese automaking giant Toyota pulling all its Olympic advertising to myriad athletes testing positive for COVID to the director of the Opening Ceremony being ousted just 48 hours before the event for past "jokes" about the Holocaust — the fourth Tokyo Games official to resign or be forced out for misconduct — it would seem Bach has far bigger issues to be concerned with.
The Olympics, particularly the disgusting expense and corruption involved in awarding it and then putting it on, is one of the most political processes you'll ever find. But we're not supposed to talk about that, right? Nothing to see here, just watch the athletes compete.
"Faster, higher, stronger — together." Unless you want us all to think about extinguishing racism and promoting equity. Then we'll strip you of the medal you've dedicated your entire life to winning and brand you as the problem, not the thing you were protesting.
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