(New York, NY) – The International Olympic Committee’s new guidelines narrow the space for political expression by athletes during the Olympic Games and infringe on free expression, PEN America said today.  

“It is sheer absurdity to suggest, as the IOC does, that ‘sport is neutral,’” said Summer Lopez, PEN America’s senior director of Free Expression Programs. “Sporting events, particularly those linked to national teams, have always been imbued with potent political meaning, and have served as venues for powerful political statements. To pretend otherwise is deliberately disingenuous, and these guidelines reflect an alarming disregard for Olympic athletes’ right to express themselves. 

“The IOC has tied itself in knots on this issue: The right to freedom of expression is codified in the IOC’s Athletes’ Rights & Responsibilities Declaration, but so is the responsibility to ‘refrain from political demonstration in competitions, competition venues and ceremonies.’ This is a contradiction in terms. The IOC’s Rule 50, which the newly-released guidelines seek to clarify, prohibits ‘demonstration[s] or political, religious or racial propaganda.’ But it is hard to see how kneeling could be considered a form of ‘propaganda.’ While the IOC clearly needs to rethink its approach to free expression in general, creating guidelines that narrow the space for athletes to express themselves is a move in the wrong direction.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.