Philip Patrick Philip Patrick

Olympics’ organisers could regret banning ‘taking the knee’

(Getty images)

Knee-taking and fist-raising protests have been banned at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, with the International Olympic Committee warning athletes who flout the rules that they will be punished. The IOC clearly hopes this will mean the delayed and accursed Olympics – already set to be loaded with a slew of joy-killing Covid restrictions – can take place without the additional burden of political controversy. That’s the theory, but could it all backfire?

At first glance it looks as if the IOC has been clever. Rather than issue a top-down declaration, they canvassed 3,500 athletes asking whether the current Rule 50, which bars all political demonstrations on the podium (not specifically the knee or the fist), should be retained. Two thirds responded that it should, allowing the IOC to shift responsibility on to the athletes.

The news has been met with a certain bewilderment in Japan. BLM never really took off here and the whole racial justice movement thing has been lost in translation somewhat. At the height of the demonstrations in London and elsewhere over the summer, I recall seeing a lone protester sitting at the Shibuya scramble square with a cardboard sign, looking thoroughly miserable. He was being ignored by everyone.

Larger protests, mainly organised by foreign residents, did take place later. But it would be more accurate to call them gatherings, or even just outings, so placid and unobtrusive were they. One of my students told me he went along to get out of a class he didn’t like, and had no idea what he was protesting about.

Japanese sportsmen and women generally refrain from any involvement in politics or protests of any kind

‘Do you think there were others like you?’

‘Oh, yeah, most people there were like that.’

As for knee-taking, no Japanese players have taken it up in the J-League, and there was no popular clamour for it.

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