Skiing superstar Lindsey Vonn has backed the International Olympic Committee’s move to effectively outlaw podium protests at future Games but supported athletes wishing to highlight human rights issues in the build-up to Beijing 2022.
Vonn, who retired in 2019 as one of the most successful skiers in history with both world and Olympic golds, 16 overall World Cup season titles and a women’s record 82 individual World Cup race wins, insists that while the podium is a “sacred place”, officials must ensure other means for athletes’ voices to be heard.
The IOC announced last month that it had upheld its controversial Rule 50, which bans protests by athletes inside stadiums, at ceremonies and on podiums, following an extended period of consultation with its own athletes’ commission.
Vonn told the PA news agency: “I think while there have been historical moments in the past, it is important to respect the other two people on the podium and that should be a sacred place where protests shouldn’t be held.
“But there are other places within the Olympics to be able to state your opinion, and I think the Olympics in Beijing is just another example.
“There are people who want to boycott and stand up for something, and that brings attention to social issues that I think are important. I have respect for anyone that is willing to go out on a limb and say how they feel to the world – that takes some gonads.”
Vonn won her sole Olympic gold in the women’s downhill at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and appeared on an Olympic podium twice more, winning bronze in the Super-G at the same Games then the downhill in Pyeongchang in 2018.
Early last month the US government was forced to deny that officials had discussed pulling out of the Beijing Games over alleged human rights abuses. Three weeks later, they raised the possibility of a “diplomatic boycott” of the Games, by which US politicians would not attend.
Vonn’s former great rival Mikaela Shiffrin said in March that she resented that as an athlete she was forced to choose between her “morals” and her “job”, and implied the IOC should take more care to award Games to nations without such significant concerns.
Vonn, speaking on the day of her induction as a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, stressed the importance of athlete activism and said they should not hesitate to utilise their status if they felt strongly enough about an issue.
“I think that athletes have a voice just like anybody else,” added Vonn. “Everybody has a microphone, but sometimes athletes have a louder microphone and if you believe in something then you should stand up for it and speak out.”
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