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Olympic champion Callum Skinner says IOC can’t prevent athletes taking the knee

“it’s fighting for equality and that is something the Olympics should 100 per cent stand behind,” says campaigner and retired track sprinter

Olympic champion Callum Skinner believes that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will not be able to prevent athletes from taking the knee when the postponed Tokyo 2020 Games finally get underway in a little over three months’ time.

Instigated by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, when he knelt during pre-game renditions of the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and racial injustice, the practice has been adopted by athletes worldwide to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Just last week, one of the most striking images of it was widely shared on social media when the entire Arsenal team took the knee ahead of their Europa League quarter final return leg in Czechia while opponents Slavia Prague – whose player Ondrej Kudela is serving a 10-match ban for racially abusing Glen Kamara of Glasgow Rangers – remained on their feet.

There had been calls for the IOC to modify its Rule 50, which bans athletes from participating in any type of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” during the Olympics.

However, this week the organisation announced that following a consultation launched in June last year to which 3,500 athletes around the world responded, it would not be modifying the rule, saying that the majority supported it.

In response to that announcement, Skinner told The Times that it appeared that the IOC was “intent on exercising control when they don't have any.

“If an athlete wants to take the knee, they will take the knee,” he said.

“People get frustrated by 'Black Lives Matter' because they see it as a political movement,” he added.

“But at its core it’s fighting for equality and that is something the Olympics should 100 per cent stand behind.”

The Scot, who won gold in the team sprint at Rio in 2016 and added silver behind fellow Team GB rider Jason Kenny in the keirin, retired from cycling in 2019.

He is athlete lead of the Global Athlete movement, which on Wednesday said that the IOC’s “archaic approach to limiting athletes’ rights to freedom of expression is another sign of an outdated sport system that continues to suppress athletes’ fundamental rights. The competitors are humans first, athletes second.

“We acknowledge that the IOC conducted a survey among athlete groups. Global Athlete had the IOC’s survey independently reviewed by several social science research experts that concluded the research methodology was both leading and flawed.”

Another of the group’s members, the Irish karate athlete and world champion kickboxer, Caradh O’Donovan, said: “One cannot survey how people feel about human rights and freedom of expression.

“These types of surveys only empower the majority when it is the minority that want and need to be heard.

“Once again, the IOC has favoured suppression over expression,” she added.

Global Athlete’s statement continued: “Today’s recommendations further dictates when, where, and what athletes can speak. This is the opposite to freedom of expression.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

“The Olympic podium is a media of communication to the world, and the Olympic frontier cannot be a barrier to human rights.

“Global Athlete hopes every athlete attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games uses the United Nations Human Rights Declaration to guide their decision on when and where to exercise their right to stand for social and racial injustice,” the group added.

“Do not allow outdated ‘sport rules’ to supersede your basic human rights.”

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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