Commonwealth Games chief tells athletes they are free to ‘take the knee’ in Birmingham

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Athletes will not face punishment for protesting against racism and unequal rights by ‘taking a knee’ at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

The Olympics bans any form of protest and the policy remains in place despite boss Thomas Bach hinting at a willingness to explore ways Tokyo-bound stars can express support for ‘non-discrimination’.

But Commonwealth Games boss David Grevemberg said firmly yesterday that his organisation would be looking to “build bridges rather than walls” when the 72-nation festival of sport comes to England in 2022.

“The Commonwealth sport movement has had a number of moments of athlete activism,” he said, citing the example of Cathy Freeman wrapping herself in the Aboriginal flag after her double gold medal triumphs at the 1994 Games. “People say are we opening Pandora’s box but no, we are respecting people’s rights to voice opinions.

“BLM is challenging all institutions right now to really look introspectively at we can do to be more fair, more free, have better equality and better systems of justice that look after people. Sport is no different.”

On the wall in Grevemberg’s office hangs the iconic image of US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, on the podium at the 1968 Olympics, each raising a black-gloved fist – a protest for which they were ostracised.

Grevemberg, who grew up in downtown New Orleans, is a long-time advocate for social justice and vows to spend the run-up to Birmingham working on behalf of athletes to “ensure that their platform and their voice is heard”.

He said: “We have a lot of questions like “why are you politicising sport?” Actually, we are humanising the conversation, giving people an opportunity for freedom of expression and association.

“The convergence of human rights and sport has been a big question for some time and we are not responding to a trend. We are actually continuing a conversation we started some time ago.

“It speaks to our values as an organisation. We maybe have more responsibility because of the shared history of the commonwealth. We are comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation and we need to embrace it.”

Birmingham 2022 has been cursed by the misfortune of the 2021 World Athletics Championships being pushed back into the same month in the calendar that it occupies, as a knock-on effect of this summer’s Olympics postponement.

Rather than sulk, the Commonwealth Games Federation yesterday moved their start date back 24 hours to give the likes of Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson the best chance to compete in both.

Grevemberg then challenged the stars of track and field, who also have the European Championships in Munich that summer, to go for three major gold medals in the space of 37 days.

“It’s a once in a lifetime chance,” he said. “An unprecedented Grand Slam.”

SUMMER MADNESS IN 2022

World Athletics Championships (Oregon, USA) July 15-24

Commonwealth Games (Birmingham, UK) July 28-August 8

European Athletics Championships (Munich, Germany) August 15-21

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