The Commonwealth Games has joined a growing list of sports bodies allowing athletes to protest against racism without fear of repercussions.
Organizations such as FIFA and the NFL reacted similarly following the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck in Minneapolis.
“People say, ‘Aren’t you opening up the Pandora’s box?’ Well no, I think we’re respecting people’s rights to voice their opinions,” David Grevemberg, CEO of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said in a conference call Thursday.
Athletes can take a knee, for example, at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, although Grevemberg said it would be “presumptuous of me to say, this is how it’s going to look.”
Athletes from more than 70 nations and territories, many of them from Africa, will be competing at the event.
The International Olympic Committee said Wednesday it would open talks that could let athletes make stronger protests at the Tokyo Games.
Five months ago, the Olympic body strengthened its ban on political statements by specifying that gestures such as taking a knee or raising a fist on a medal podium remain prohibited.
But the IOC’s public stance eased slightly on Wednesday when president Thomas Bach said the body’s athletes’ commission would “explore different ways” opinions could be expressed during the games while still “respecting the Olympic spirit.”
Also, U.S. Soccer’s board of directors this week repealed its policy that required players to stand for the national anthem.
The policy was put in place in 2017 after Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem at a pair of national team matches in 2016. She did it to express solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who took a knee during the national anthem before NFL games to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.
Kaepernick faced sharp criticism for the protest for years, but sentiment among the public has changed since Floyd’s death last month and the subsequent protests.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week the league was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality and encouraged them to peacefully protest. FIFA recently urged soccer competition organizers to apply “common sense” and to consider not punishing players for showing solidarity with Floyd or the Black Lives Matter movement.
The quadrennial Commonwealth Games has been examining the protest issue for several years, Grevemberg said, but he noted that it’s now taken on more urgency.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is actually challenging all institutions right now to really look introspectively at what we can do to be more fair, more free,” he said.
“We are comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation,” Grevemberg added. “We need to embrace that. We have even more responsibility because of the shared history of the Commonwealth.”