New Zealand Olympic Committee supports athletes’ right to speak up amid racism protests

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) has told its athletes they should speak openly about social and political issues, especially those involving racism, as calls to change rules restricting protest at the Olympics grows louder.

Several major sports organisations have already moved to allow protests at their events following George Floyd’s death in U.S. police custody on May 25, while athletes globally have offered support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We support our athletes as they share their voices, and we look to ourselves for ways to further strengthen our commitment to equality,” NZOC President Mike Stanley said in a statement on Thursday following a board meeting.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) specifically bans political protests at Olympic Games.

IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday it has embarked on a process of engagement with athletes about “expressing support for the principles enshrined in the Olympic charter in a dignified way”.

Floyd’s death has seen Black Lives Matter protests spread globally, including to street marches in New Zealand.

Several New Zealand athletes and rugby players have also voiced their support for the movement and questioned institutional racism.

“It’s important for athletes to feel empowered and to understand the role they can play as community leaders,” said Sarah Cowley Ross, the chair of the NZOC Athletes Commission.

“I was proud to see so many athletes using their platforms for good and we look forward to finding additional avenues to support their calls for change.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Lincoln Feast.