Irish 800m indoor champion Nadia Power has described the International Olympic Committee's initial decision to threaten with bans any athletes who protested on an anti-racism platform during next summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo as “tone-deaf”.
The statement from the IOC last month was completely out of step with responses from other high-profile sports organisations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
FIFA and the NFL, both of whom have made woeful missteps of their own in this space in the past, have waived sanctions for protests such as taking a knee and, while the IOC has softened its stance after a deluge of criticism, its initial attitude will not be easily forgotten.
“I just think it was really tone-deaf,” said Power. “There was no need for that to be declared at that time when we have seen athletes taking stances. The Olympics is next summer, it wasn’t the right time for it. I’ll always support a protest like that definitely, if it’s people being treated equally.”
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas" but the Global Athlete Group has deemed this to be a breach of human rights and has called for it to be abolished.
Athletes breaking these rules can be disciplined on a case-by-case basis and the IOC issued guidelines only last January, prior to the shutdown and the delay of the Games by 12 months, when clarifying that protests such as taking a knee would be banned.
Power isn't blind to the reasoning for that.
“I see why the IOC do need a stance on it because you can’t have every single athlete protesting every single thing. Everyone has different beliefs. If you had every single athlete on the podium protesting about their own personal beliefs, it wouldn’t really work out too. So it is a really, really tricky subject, but I didn’t agree with the timing of that statement.”
The Templeogue athlete was vocal in her support of the Black Lives Matter cause herself, tweeting her appreciation when Gina Apke-Moses spoke so honestly and openly on radio last month about her experiences with racism and as a black woman representing Ireland.
Power also revealed how her mother had warned her not to look at comments under pictures on social media that featured her wearing an Irish singlet. That said, she has been happy with the positive reaction that her contribution has prompted and with her initial decision to speak out.
“I’ve never really got into a conversation, I’ve never talked publicly about anything other than me being an athlete and my own personal case,” she said, adding that doing so was no distraction to her ambitions and focus in athletics.
“It was an interesting time for me being in the media supporting such a big movement. I am proud, I was able to share my voice. Anything I’ve added had value and I’ve got some support back. It made me think, I have more to bring to the table than just running certain times.”
- Nadia Power was speaking at the launch of the Irish Life Health Mile Challenge. The week-long challenge to find out the fittest and most active club and county starts on August 17th and finishes on August 23rd when Ireland’s top athletes compete at the Irish Life Health Track and Field Championships.