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The image of the founding leader of Communist China, Mao Zedong, made an unexpected appearance Monday at the Tokyo Olympics, in the form of a badge worn by two Chinese athletes during a track cycling podium. The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it is “examining (this) matter”.
Did Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi violate, Monday at the Tokyo Olympics, a rule of the Olympic Charter prohibiting all “political propaganda”? The badge bearing the image of Mao Zedong that they wore in any case caught the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which declared, Tuesday, August 3, “to examine the question”.
This gesture by the two Chinese gold medalists during their medal ceremony risks being judged as a violation of rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which reads: “No kind of political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda is not permitted in any Olympic venue, site or other location “.
Communist leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, and remains an iconic figure in China 45 years after his death in 1976.
The incident occurred one day after another gesture studied by the IOC. American shot put silver medalist Raven Saunders crossed the wrists of her raised arms on the podium on Sunday as she stood next to the Chinese gold medalist. It was not clear on Tuesday whether the Mao Zedong badges were a response to the ceremony the day before.
“We have contacted the Chinese Olympic Committee and asked for a report on the situation,” IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said on Tuesday at the daily Tokyo Games press conference.
Badges worn in the 60s in China
Badges showing the profile of Mao Zedong were worn by hundreds of millions of people in the 1960s to show their loyalty to the chairman of the Communist Party and the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution he launched in 1966.
Current Chinese party leader Xi Jinping has used Mao’s image in an attempt to promote his own status as a historic Chinese leader. At an event on July 1, he appeared in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, wearing a gray Mao jacket identical to the one the former ruler wore in a nearby portrait overlooking the square. The other party leaders present at the same event were dressed in blue business suits.
The IOC has made public its President Thomas Bach’s regular appeals with Xi Jinping ahead of the opening of the Beijing Olympics in February 2022, which human rights activists have tried to call the “Genocide Games” because of the treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority in northwest China by the government.
Raven Saunders’ X also studied by the IOC
At the Tokyo Olympics, where activist athletes were expected to attract attention, Raven Saunders pushed the boundaries of Rule 50 by crossing her wrists to form an X. “It’s the intersection where all the oppressed meet, ”she said when asked for an explanation of her actions.
Raven Saunders turned to photographers at the Olympic Stadium to make the gesture seconds after standing in front of the Chinese flag during Gong Lijiao’s national anthem. The US Olympic body has taken no action against Raven Saunders, who said last Monday “to have been respectful of its competitors and not to have violated our rules relating to demonstrations”.
The IOC has asked officials of the U.S. team for more details, Mark Adams said on Tuesday, adding that he had taken note of public opinion in the matter – Raven Saunders, who is black and gay, received broad support after his gesture.
Raven Saunders said on the Olympic track her goal was to “show young people that no matter how many boxes they try to get you into, you can be yourself and you can accept it.”
Political neutrality and relaxed rules
The IOC has long claimed that it was politically neutral and that it had to maintain this position to allow more than 200 national teams to arrive and compete at the Olympics on an equal footing. Still, the rule banning all protests by athletes at Olympic venues was relaxed slightly in the weeks leading up to the opening ceremony in Tokyo, where athletes were expected to test its limits.
Gestures and statements are now permitted inside the playing field, on the starting line or before a match, but not during competition or during medal ceremonies. Several women’s football teams, for example, knelt on the pitch before the first day of Olympic action kicked off on July 21.
Mao’s pins, however, brought an unexpected twist to the Rule 50 debate. Wearing of these badges declined after 1970 due to complaints that their production was depleting the scarce metal reserves needed by Chinese industry. The original pins dating from the Cultural Revolution are sought after by collectors, both in China and in the West.
Images of Mao became popular again in the 1990s to express complaints that ordinary Chinese were not taking enough advantage of the economic changes that caused inflation and layoffs at state-owned enterprises.