British athletes backed by Team GB chief if they take a knee at Tokyo Olympics
The British Olympic Association will back any athlete who wishes to take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement at next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Games.
Team GB chef de mission Mark England said he feels “quite strongly” about supporting any collective decision made by Team GB members over how best to express themselves in the wake of the global protests which followed the death of American George Floyd.
Representatives of the BOA’s Athletes’ Commission have been tasked with collating feedback and reporting their findings to the equivalent body within the International Olympic Committee.
England said: “I think it is close to everybody’s heart and we would absolutely support athletes in whatever way they collectively choose to support the Black Lives Matter.
“What is important is that British athletes have the opportunity to feed into what they feel is a right and appropriate way to express that support.
“Some athletes may take the view that the field of play and the podium is sacrosanct. Some athletes may choose that actually it gives them the highest profile and therefore that is the right and appropriate place.
“There are very few athletes who podium but this is something I feel quite strongly about Team GB as a whole supporting. It is important that our athletes collectively support each other in this way.”
Having initially been criticised for appearing to suggest that protests in Tokyo would be banned under the organisation’s Rule 50, IOC president Thomas Bach announced in June a consultation process to establish how athletes can express their support “in a dignified way”.
Despite continued fears over the status of the Games in light of the continuing coronavirus pandemic, England remains confident that it will take place in such a way that its “integrity” will remain intact.
Whilst Tokyo chiefs have indicated the Games will be simplified, with some reduction in non-essential services, there is as yet no suggestion that the sports programme itself will be abridged.
“The good news as far as the simplification process of the Games is concerned, is that the athletes and the delivery of play, and the delivery of training venues, is absolutely safeguarded,” England added.
“We are working diligently to ensure that should the Games take place – and we’re expecting them to take place – the performance aspirations of British Olympic athletes whatever it might be, whether it’s to become the greatest Olympian of all time or whether it’s to get a top-eight placing, each and every one is equally important to us.”
The escalating crisis in British gymnastics, which has seen serious allegations of bullying and abuse and pushed Rio bronze medallist Amy Tinkler into retirement, has led to a renewed focus on the effects of setting and achieving strict medal targets.
Whilst the BOA’s remit has never prioritised the pursuit of funding-related targets, England nevertheless hinted at a gradual shift-change in expectations away from medal tables and towards a more subjective measure of success.
“(The Olympics) stands for something which is greater than the pursuit of medals,” England said.
“I don’t think you will ever hear a Team GB chef de mission talk about medals. What we do talk about is putting in place absolutely the best support mechanism that we can… to allow athletes to fulfil their dream, whatever that might be.”