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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Colin Kaepernick isn't in the Olympics, but the lasting image of an athlete kneeling on the sidelines in silent protest is likely to find its way to Tokyo all the same.

Why it matters: Such a demonstration would have previously been banned at the Games, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed its rules governing protests in the wake of 2020's global racial reckoning.

The state of play: The IOC's new rule allows for athletes to "express their views" more freely than in the past.

  • Athletes can share their opinions in interviews and news conferences, as well as through digital, traditional and social media. They can also demonstrate peacefully on the field as long as the competition has not begun (i.e. kneeling before the game).
  • Athletes cannot do any of the above during a competition, within the Olympic Village or during official ceremonies (i.e. medal, opening, closing). They also cannot be "disruptive."
  • Discipline will come on a case-by-case basis, taking various factors such as degree of disruption into account, but the exact range of punishments is vague.

What they're saying: Some question whether the updated rule is merely cosmetic, and perhaps even hypocritical.

  • "Instead of implementing meaningful changes ... the IOC tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, indicating the rule has been relaxed, which in fact [it] has not. ... The reality is athletes still cannot use the podium or field of play to peacefully protest," Rob Koehler, director general of the international, athlete-led group Global Athlete, told The Nation.
  • "Threatening to sanction athletes who peacefully protest on issues such as racism is not only inconsistent with human rights, but also goes against the values that the IOC claims to support," the 17-nation European Elite Athletes Association wrote in a statement.

Between the lines: The updated rule was devised after the IOC surveyed 3,500 athletes across 185 countries to gauge their sentiment. 70% were against demonstrations on Olympic fields or at official ceremonies.

  • Yes, but: One sports columnist with expertise in market research believes the data was skewed by suspect word choice and an overrepresentation of countries where dissent isn't valued.

The bottom line: Incredibly, these are the first Summer Olympics since Kaepernick's kneeling protest first drew attention, and though that was an American story, fighting against human rights injustices is a global struggle.

  • The competition in Tokyo should be fierce, but hearing what these athletes have to say could prove equally compelling.

Go deeper: Olympics allows protests, but not during events or on medals stand (NYT)

Go deeper

Sep 30, 2021 - Sports

Private school college athletes are employees, labor board says

NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced on Wednesday that college athletes at private institutions should be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Why it matters: This would allow college athletes to unionize and receive protections from the NLRB, dealing another blow to the NCAA's business model of amateurism.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

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