Without saying a word, 18 year old Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado’s message at Tokyo 2020 was loud and clear. She finished her floor routine — knelt on the spring floor, looked to the sky and raised her fist to the air. Alvarado’s poignant gesture was a clear tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing fight against racial injustice.
“We’re all the same — we’re all beautiful and amazing,” Alvarado told the Associated Press, after she revealed the routine was choreographed to highlight the importance of equality.Under Olympic Charter Rule 50, the International Olympic Committee prohibits any athlete protest or political demonstration on the field-of-play or medal ceremony podium. Alvarado, who became the first gymnast from Costa Rica to qualify for the Olympic Games, has found a possible loophole in the IOC’s policy because she incorporated the gesture as part of her artistic gymnastics routine.
Prior to the Games, concessions were made to the IOC rule which would allow acts of free expression, so long as they come before the start of event competition. Famed American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, known for the iconic image of raising their fists on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, urged the IOC to not punish participants who demonstrate at the Tokyo Games.
On the first day of Olympic competition, British and Chilean women’s soccer teams kneeled before kick-off and were followed by the United States, Sweden and New Zealand. The Australian women posed with a flag of Australia’s Indigenous people. Those images were excluded from official Olympic highlights and social media channels, but the IOC has since reversed that decision.
The German women’s gymnastics team has also launched their own protest to uniforms they believe exploit the sexualization of women’s sports and will now compete in full-length unitards. Athlete activism has now taken centre stage.