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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With athlete activism on the rise, and protest guidelines in flux, Olympians could play a larger role than ever in shaping the narrative around the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics — which have come under heavy scrutiny due to China's human rights abuses.

The state of play: The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee announced in December that it would no longer prohibit athletes from "peacefully and respectfully demonstrating in support of racial and social justice for all human beings."

  • This goes against Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which prohibits athletes from demonstrating in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas (but not in press conferences, team meetings or via media).
  • In response to the USOPC's decision, the IOC — which controls all 206 National Olympic Committees — is now reviewing Rule 50, with an announcement expected in the next few months.

What they're saying: "The IOC Athletes' Commission has launched a dialogue with the athletes' representatives of the world ... to explore different ways of how Olympic athletes can express their support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter ... whilst respecting the Olympic spirit," the IOC told Axios in a statement.

American fencer Race Imboden kneels during the medal ceremony at the 2019 Pan American Games. Photo: Leonardo Fernandez/Getty Images

The backdrop: The USOPC placed fencer Race Imboden and hammer thrower Gwen Berry on probation after they knelt and raised a fist during their medal ceremonies at the 2019 Pan American Games. It has since apologized.

  • The IOC can bar athletes from the Games or strip them of their medals for protesting, though NOCs have historically doled out the punishments.
  • When Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously raised their fists at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City, the USOPC — not the IOC — expelled them.

The bottom line: The nationwide protests last summer saw athletes speak out in new ways, and caused a chain reaction that is now playing out internationally — just in time for back-to-back Olympics in Tokyo and Beijing.

Go deeper: Boycott threat clouds 2022 Beijing Olympics

Go deeper

It's official: Stock market having worst start to year ever

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's been a decidedly ugly start to the year for the stock market, with particular pain in the tech trade.

State of play: As of the end of trading Tuesday — the 16th session of the year — 2022 is now, officially, the worst-ever start in the history of the S&P 500, according to data from Ned Davis Research, a stock market research shop.

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.

Mike Allen, author of AM
3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Third Way: "Big Lie" could become "Big Coup"

Graphic: Third Way

Third Way, the center-left think tank, is urging fellow Democrats to respond to the Capitol riot with "the size, scope, and seriousness of a presidential campaign," co-founder Matt Bennett tells me.

Driving the news: "For the first time in U.S. history, a party must mount two parallel presidential campaigns: one to win the election, and the other to prevent its theft," Bennett said, calling this "a Paul Revere moment."

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