Mike Rowbottom

So John Carlos says to Tommie Smith - "Hey Tommie, I left my gloves in the Village. Sorry, man. But listen - Pete Norman’s just said let's wear one each. Why not? Get him one of our badges and let’s go!"

And Smith says to Carlos - "Yeah. Yeah. Great. But you know what, John? I’ve been thinking. Maybe we shouldn’t do this. I mean, 70 per cent of those surveyed in an Athlete Expression Consultation say field of play and official ceremonies are not an appropriate place for competitors to demonstrate or protest."

And Carlos says - "No! Really? Seventy per cent?"

Smith says - "Yeah. They want to preserve the podium, field of play and official ceremonies from any kind of protests or demonstrations, or any acts perceived as such."

And Carlos says - "Damn. You’re right, Tommie. Upon reflection, our demonstration against racism and the denial of human rights is just not on in an Olympic context. Let’s forget it."

If only a version of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes' Commission survey on Rule 50, which prohibits athletes from demonstrating or protesting in certain places at the Games, had come out before the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, where the image of Smith and Carlos raising single, black-gloved fists in protest on the 200 metres podium, alongside an Australian supportively wearing their badge, ricocheted around the world, raising their big issue while also condemning all three to years of official spite and vituperation.

Then the whole messy business need never have happened.

Yeah, right.

The image of the podium protest against racism and the denial of human rights after the men's 200m final at the Mexico City 1968 Olympics has become iconic ©Getty Images
The image of the podium protest against racism and the denial of human rights after the men's 200m final at the Mexico City 1968 Olympics has become iconic ©Getty Images

In the wake of the latest bright-eyed and bushy-tailed findings from the IOC Athletes’ Commission last week the reaction from a number of athlete bodies was immediate.

EU Athletes - a federation of European professional athletes' associations and unions representing more than 25,000 athletes – released this statement:

"EU Athletes has noted the report and recommendations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes Commission which were approved by the IOC Executive Board on the 21st of April 2021. We are deeply concerned by the decision taken by the IOC and believe that the consultation process and the rule 50 itself are not compatible with the human rights of athletes.

"By restricting its consultation to the Athletes Committees and Commissions, the IOC Athlete Commission disregarded the voices of thousands of athletes being represented by the independent unions and associations, as well as their human rights such as freedom of association and the right to organize.

"Regardless of numerous issues related to the methodology of the IOC AC consultation, there is no survey that could change the fact that freedom of speech and expression are universally recognized human rights that athletes enjoy.

"The IOC’s approach to freedom of speech and expression consists of an attempt to restrict, redefine and control the way that the athletes exercise their fundamental human right.

"Threatening to sanction athletes who peacefully protest on issues such as racism is not only inconsistent with human rights, but also goes against the values that the IOC claims to support."

"The idea that a sport organization can restrict or redefine the human rights of athletes is simply unacceptable. These rights, including the right to protest, are recognized and guaranteed by national constitutions and international human rights instruments.

"We are calling on governments, international organizations, and sport stakeholders to encourage the IOC to amend rule 50 and allow peaceful demonstrations on issues that are important to athletes and wider society."

The Athletics Association, established last year to provide an independent voice for track and field athletes, with world and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor at its head, also responded firmly.

"The Athletics Association are deeply disappointed that after many months of deliberation, the IOC have decided not make any meaningful changes to Rule 50", it said.

"Last year we advocated for athletes to be allowed to exercise their basic human right to peacefully protest against social injustices in the world, without punishment or sanctions, and we will continue to do so.

"Whilst we acknowledge that the IOC’s athlete commission did survey athletes, a step we encourage and support, in the future we hope that this can be done in collaboration with truly independent organisations that represent athletes of Olympic sports.

"We strongly believe that if athletes are protesting in the spirit of Olympism, then to punish them for a peaceful protests goes against what the Olympics is supposed to represent and encourage."

Brendan Schwab, executive director of the World Players Association union, told the Associated Press: "This is precisely the outcome we expected.

"The Olympic Movement doesn’t understand its own history better than the athletes.

"Any athlete sanctioned at the Tokyo Olympics will have the full backing of the World Players."

Meanwhile the independent group representing German athletes pledged legal backing for its national team.

"Should German athletes decide to peacefully stand up for fundamental values such as fighting racism during the Olympic Games, they can rely on the legal support of Athleten Deutschland," Johannes Herber, the group’s chief executive, said in a statement.

In a statement, yet another athlete group, Global Athlete, encouraged athletes to "not allow outdated 'sports rules' to supersede your basic human rights." It claimed the survey's methods were flawed.

"These types of surveys only empower the majority when it is the minority that want and need to be heard," said Ireland’s Caradh O’Donovan, a karate athlete who helped start Global Athlete.

In 2019, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee inducted Smith and Carlos into its Hall of Fame.

In December it pledged not to take action against athletes protesting at their Olympic trials for Tokyo.

In the light of the IOC Athletes' Commission survey results it has released a statement - saying its position has not changed.

"Nor has our commitment to elevating athlete expression and the voices of marginalized populations everywhere in support of racial and social justice," chief executive Sarah Hirshland said.