note: Thomas Terraz is a fourth year LL.B.
candidate at the International and European Law programme at The Hague
University of Applied Sciences with a specialisation in European Law. Currently
he is pursuing an internship at the T.M.C. Asser Institute with a focus on
International and European Sports Law.
Since its inception, the Olympic Movement, and in particular the
IOC, has tirelessly endeavored to create a clean bubble around sport events, protecting
its hallowed grounds from any perceived impurities. Some of these perceived ‘contaminants’
have eventually been accepted as a necessary part of sport over time (e.g.
professionalism in sport),
while others are still strictly shunned (e.g. political protest and
manifestations) and new ones have gained importance over the years (e.g.
protection of intellectual property rights). The IOC has adopted a variety of
legal mechanisms and measures to defend this sanitized space. For instance, the IOC has led massive efforts
to protect its and its partners’ intellectual property rights through campaigns
against ambush marketing (e.g. ‘clean venues’ and minimizing the athletes’
ability to represent their personal sponsors). Nowadays,
the idea of the clean bubble is further reinforced through the colossal security
operations created to protect the Olympic sites.
Nevertheless, politics, and in particular political protest, has
long been regarded as one of the greatest threats to this sanitized space. More
recently, politics has resurfaced in the context of the IOC
Athletes’ Commission Rule 50 Guidelines. Although Rule 50 is nothing new, the
Guidelines stirred considerable criticism, to which Richard
Pound personally responded, arguing that Rule 50 is a rule encouraging ‘mutual
respect’ through ‘restraint’ with the aim of using sport ‘to bring people
this regard, the Olympic Charter aims to avoid ‘vengeance, especially misguided
vengeance’. These statements seem to endorse a view that one’s expression of
their political beliefs at the Games is something that will inherently divide people
and damage ‘mutual respect’. Thus, the question naturally arises: can the world
only get along if ‘politics, religion, race and sexual orientation are set
one’s politics, personal belief and identity be considered so unholy that they
must be left at the doorstep of the Games in the name of depoliticization and
of the protection of the Games’ sanitized bubble? Moreover, is it even possible
to separate politics and sport?
Even Richard Pound would likely agree that politics and sport are at
least to a certain degree bound to be intermingled.
However, numerous commentators have gone further and expressed their skepticism
to the view that athletes should be limited in their freedom of expression
during the Games (see here,
Overall, the arguments made by these commentators have pointed out the hypocrisy
that while the Games are bathed in politics, athletes – though without their labor
there would be no Games – are severely restrained in expressing their own
political beliefs. Additionally, they often bring attention to how some of the
most iconic moments in the Games history are those where athletes took a stand
on a political issue, often stirring significant controversy at the time. Nevertheless,
what has not been fully explored is the relationship between the Olympic Games
and politics in terms of the divide between the ideals of international unity
enshrined in the Olympic Charter and on the other hand the de facto embrace of country
versus country competition in the Olympic Games. While the Olympic Charter
frames the Games as ‘competitions between athletes in individual or team events
and not between countries’, the reality is far from this ideal. Sport
nationalism in this context can be considered as a form of politics because a
country’s opportunity to host and perform well at the Games is frequently used to
validate its global prowess and stature.
To explore this issue, this first blog will first take a historical
approach by investigating the origins of political neutrality in sport followed
by an examination of the clash between the ideal of political neutrality and
the reality that politics permeate many facets of the Olympic Games. It will be
argued that overall there has been a failure to separate politics and the Games
but that this failure was inevitable and should not be automatically viewed negatively.
The second blog will then dive into the Olympic Charter’s legal mechanisms that
attempt to enforce political neutrality and minimize sport nationalism, which
also is a form of politics. It will attempt to compare and contrast the IOC’s
approach to political expression when exercised by the athletes with its
treatment of widespread sport nationalism.More...