The Olym is not the right place for athletes to get on their “soapboxes”, former British star Fatima Whitbread has said.
Whitbread, who won bronze in the javelin in Los Angeles in 1984 and a silver in Seoul four years later, said the Games should be free of “people expressing how they feel” and “creating a die”.
Sprinter Dina Asher-Smith had earlier said that stopping athletes taking the knee in Tokyo would be “completely unenforceable”.
But Whitbread, 60, appeared unimpressed with the activism in sport at present.
“In the 80s we were concentrating on getting on with the business,” she told Sky News.
The Olym is not the right place for ‘soapboxes, says Fatima Whitbread
“Today there seems to be more soapboxes and people expressing how they feel – and I really don’t think the Olym is that place.
“There’s a time and a place for it and I don’t think the Olym is about that.
“The Olym to me is about bringing people together. Sport really is an equal playing field.”
She added that the event needed to remain “pure” and “keep focused on what sport’s all about”.
While not saying whether she would be taking the knee herself in Tokyo, Asher-Smith said that “protesting and expressing yourself” are a “fundamental human right”.
‘Proud’ that Team GB women’s football team took the knee
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had “no choice” when it decided to roll back restrictions banning demonstrations, the track star said.
The IOC lifted its Rule 50 earlier this month. The regulation states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.
Had it remained in place, Asher-Smith said there would have been “loads of athlete protests at the Games and it would have been very embarrassing for them”.
Asher-Smith will be competing in the 100 and 200 metres. File pic
Bad publicity would have been beamed into televisions across the world, she added.
“If you were to penalise someone for standing up against racial inequality, how on earth would that go, how on earth are you going to enforce that?” she said.
“Would you revoke someone’s medal for saying racism is wrong? But I think it’s good they have lifted it. How would you police that, particularly when people feel so strongly about that right now?
“Also, if you were to penalise someone or revoke a medal, how would that go optically?”
Footballers have been taking the knee as part of worldwide protests against racism which began following the murder of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer in Minneapolis last year.
Asher-Smith, who will compete in the 100 and 200 metres, said that leaving the IOC rule in place could have led to a farcical situation.
She explained: “I did see it as completely unenforceable and I think they had no choice but to lift it otherwise they would have been faced with loads of athlete protests at the Games and it would have been very embarrassing for them.
“Unless they want to say they are against people being against racism I didn’t see how that was going to happen.”
She also invoked history. “Some of the Olym’ most iconic moments have been the black power salute by Tommie Smith (in 1968),” she said.
“That is something people remember the Olym for, something they’re very proud to see at the Olympic Games.
“So to think they’re suddenly going to get up and say ‘absolutely not’ – I think they’d be shooting themselves in the foot.”
Asher-Smith begins competing on 30 July – the first morning of athletics – in the 100m heats, with the semi-final and final the following day.