A survey of Irish Olympic hopefuls and Olympians by the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) Athletes’ Commission indicates that there is an appetite amongst Team Ireland athletes for some relaxation in Rule 50, to allow for forms of considerate protest.

Rule 50 expressly forbids any form of political messaging, in its widest context and while such protest was clearly made, and ignored, in opening ceremonies at Salt Lake City in the wake of 9/11 and in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games, it tends to be athletes upon whom the rules are applied.

In an environment where Black Lives Matter and other protests have been highlighted in sport and where a variety of sporting bodies from the NFL to the Premier League have softened their resistance, the IOC’s hard-line looks an outlier.

The findings of the survey will be discussed at a forum for Irish athletes which will take place on the 3rd September 2020.

In July, Team Ireland Olympians and Olympic hopefuls were invited to contribute to the survey to help better understand the feelings of Irish athletes with regard to the IOC’s Rule 50 which states that “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted on any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

While the response rate of 19% could represent a limited depth with regards Rule 50 amongst many Irish athletes the majority of those who did respond (62%) indicated that some form of protest should be allowed with a strong preference for forms of protest that would not involve or impact the podium. This view was further re-enforced as 67% of respondents indicated they would not be in favour of unrestricted protest.

“Based on this survey, we do not believe there is a depth of feeling among Irish Olympians and aspiring Olympians to simply abolish Rule 50,” said Chair of the OFI Athletes’ Commission Shane O’Connor.

“We believe that Irish athletes feel Rule 50 should be reformed rather than abolished – Rule 50 should allow for some forms of protest as long as it is done in a respectful and peaceful way that does not detract from the spirit of the Olympics or has a detrimental personal impact on other athletes and their Olympic experience.”

“Furthermore, we believe Irish Olympians and aspiring Olympians should aspire to driving and inspiring change for Rule 50 and we will be hosting an athlete forum to discuss a relaxation of Rule 50 and will be looking to challenge the current status quo with suggestions on how Rule 50 might evolve for Tokyo 2020. This is something that we would like to discuss in more detail.”

Tokyo Olympic hopefuls and Olympians have now been invited to take part in an open forum to discuss how to define a ‘considerate’ protest, which will take place online on the 3rd September.

Following this, the OFI Athletes’ Commission will establish a more concrete position from Team Ireland to present to the IOC.