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Olympians face punishment if they kneel in protest at Tokyo 2021

American fencer Race Imboden knelt in protest while at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, but would face punishment if he did so at the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. File Photo by Juan Ponce/EPA-EFE
American fencer Race Imboden knelt in protest while at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, but would face punishment if he did so at the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. File Photo by Juan Ponce/EPA-EFE

June 10 (UPI) -- The International Olympic Committee has kept guidelines in place for disciplinary action for athletes who participate in protests, which include taking a knee, for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The IOC Athletes' Commission published the guidelines in January. They ban athletes from taking a knee, raising a fist or refusal to follow protocol at medal ceremonies.

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The IOC told Telegraph Sport Tuesday those guidelines haven't changed, as other sports leagues in the United States and in Europe have voiced support for the peaceful protest gestures.

Protests against police brutality and racial inequality have spread into sports amid unrest in the United States after the death of George Floyd.

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Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed while handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a white police officer May 25 in Minneapolis.

Olympic athletes who violate the IOC guidelines will face bans on a case-by-case basis. The IOC's latest comments come after the NFL, MLS, NBA, FIFA, England's Football Association and Germany's Bundesliga have released statements in support of protests from athletes.

"No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas," the IOC guidelines state.

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The IOC document did not specify the type of punishments athletes will receive for protests. The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has released several statements amid the unrest.

The statements came less than a year after the organization reprimanded gold medalists Race Imboden and Gwen Berry for when they protested in August at the Pan American Games.

Imboden took a knee as the American fencing team celebrated a victory. Berry held up a clinched fist and bowed her head during the national anthem. Both athletes received a 12-month probation and face more serious sanctions if they breach the code of conduct in that time.

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Berry requested an apology from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee after its initial statement. On Monday the committee apologized after they "failed to listen and tolerated racism and inequality."

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United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee chief executive Sarah Hirshland also announced Tuesday that the organizations plans to create an "athlete-led group" to challenge the organization's own rules, which include policies against protests.

The United States Soccer Federation also met this week to consider a repeal of its policy, which requires national team players to stand during the national anthem.

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