Athletes should have right to protest on political issues - New Zealand Olympic Association

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 around the world have offered support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The International Olympic Committee said Wednesday that it would open talks that could let athletes make stronger protests at the Tokyo Games, despite having strengthened its ban on political statements by specifying that gestures such as taking a knee or raising a fist on a medal podium remain prohibited.

"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.

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

"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."

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

World Athletics President Seb Coe has said that he would not be opposed to athletes kneeling at next year's Games, as long as protests are kept "respectful."

He told the Independent: "I am reluctant to discourage athletes from expressing their views and I sense that the current generation is more willing to speak out than some previous generations were.

"There is nothing in World Athletics' Integrity Cody of Conduct to prevent athletes from protesting as long as it is done in a respectful manner, considers other athletes, and does not damage our sport."