Athletes at U.S. Olympic Trials OK to Kneel During the National Anthem, Wear 'Black Lives Matter' Gear

The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) announced which "racial and social" demonstrations will and won't be permitted at the trials for the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

With insight from the USOPC's new Council on Racial and Social Justice, the Committee released a nine-page document detailing do's and don'ts of permitted demonstration. Holding up a fist, kneeling during the national anthem and wearing phrases such as "Black Lives Matter" or "equality" are allowed, but hate symbols or actions that would prohibit another athlete from competing are barred.

The move comes after the committee answered calls from athletes not to enforce its controversial Rule 50, which prohibits protests at the Olympics, and is a preview into the policy the U.S. team plans to keep when it travels to Tokyo in a few months.

Black Lives Matter
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee will permit athletes to perform some "racial and social demonstrations," such as raising a fist, at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Above, Romelu Lukaku of Belgium takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Belgium and Wales on March 24, in Leuven, Belgium. Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Many U.S. athletes have spearheaded the call for more freedom in using their platform at the Olympics to advance social justice causes. But others, both in and outside the U.S., balk at widespread rule changes that they fear could lead to demonstrations that sully their own Olympic experiences.

The wide-ranging debate traces its most-visible roots to the ouster of U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Games. Their raised fists on the medals stand in Mexico City led to the seminal snapshot of social protest in sports history.

The document takes pains to define as much as it can, including making clear that acceptable demonstrations should involve "advancing racial and social justice; or promoting the human dignity of individuals or groups that have historically been underrepresented, minoritized, or marginalized in their respective societal context."

It sets out a process by which cases that step outside the rules can be decided. It also makes clear that while the USOPC will not sanction athletes for many actions, it cannot "prevent…third parties from making statements or taking actions of their own, and that each Participant must make their own personal decision about the risks and benefits that may be involved."

Those third parties could include the IOC itself. The body that runs the Olympics is in the process of its own review, led by an athletes' commission, that could lead to tweaks in Rule 50. It is not expected to go as far as what the USOPC is doing. That review is expected to be complete next month, and the USOPC could adjust its guidance if needed.

But the USOPC's original decision—announced in December—that it would not punish athletes who run afoul of Rule 50 in Tokyo drew a line in the sand that sets the stage for possible conflict. Under many circumstances in the past, a nation's Olympic committee has been expected to deliver sanctions to athletes on its team that run afoul of rules at the Olympics. The USOPC has made clear it won't do this in many cases that fall under Rule 50.

"I have confidence you'll make the best decision for you, your sport and your fellow competitors," Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the USOPC, wrote in a letter to athletes to address the new guidance.