By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) – Athletes are not just sports role models and should speak out about social and political issues just like U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe at last year’s World Cup, the CEO of independent German athletes’ association Athleten Deutschland said.
Johannes Herber said on Wednesday the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50 which banned any political messages at Olympic venues or medal ceremonies at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, to avoid turning the Games into a political tool, was robbing the world of interesting voices.
“I understand the IOC argument that it does not want to turn the Games into a competition of political messages,” he told Reuters. “Some countries are very sensitive an even a minor message could provoke emotions.
“But athletes influence many people around the world, especially young people. I cannot wish for more than to have athletes who deliver amazing performances on the field of play but are also engaged socially with an opinion.
“Think of how strongly Megan Rapinoe has spoken out in favor of minority rights. It is sad to have such a chance taken away (by Rule 50).”
Rapinoe has been a prominent supporter for LGBT rights and equal pay, having been part of the team that sued U.S. soccer last year over gender discrimination.
The Ballon d’Or winner has also been a vocal critic of U.S. President Donald Trump and famously declared that the team wouldn’t “go to the (expletive) White House,” prior to the squad winning their second successive world title last year.
“Political opinion does not always have to be divisive, think of the environment or equality. To show youngsters that you can be both an athlete and also make a difference,” Herber said.
Herber also wants a discussion on revenue sharing for athletes after Germans scored a major victory a year ago with the German Cartel Office saying the IOC and the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) were subject to existing competition laws.
They would, as a consequence, need to grant more rights for promotional activities ahead of and during the Games. Several other countries, including the United States and Britain, have followed and somewhat relaxed restrictions.
In essence, athletes will be able to have greater freedom to maximize their income from the huge exposure the Olympics bring.
“Overall it was a very positive development,” told Reuters. “There now needs to be clarity what exactly this means. We must now use in Tokyo this potential that has been created by this decision.”
The IOC says the redistribution of more than 90% of its multi-billion dollar revenues is vital for many athletes, federations and national Olympic Committees with limited resources.
“I still believe that we have to reach that point (of a great share of revenues for athletes),” Herber said. “Or at least have a serious discussion about it. Are there ways to have athletes receive a bigger share without compromising the solidarity model?”
Russia will also be in the focus in Tokyo as the nation faces another Olympic exclusion over its widespread doping system across many sports.
It is waiting for a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport over the four-year ban imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in December.
“Our members want the process to start as soon as possible,” Herber said. “Beyond that only those Russian athletes should compete in Tokyo who are proven to be clean and are not mentioned in any of the doping reports.
“With our board we reached the conclusion that we are an athletes’ association and we have to be on the side of athletes and that those who are not accused of wrongdoing should be able to compete.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Christian Radnedge)