Mao pins worn by Chinese athletes may test Olympic rules

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hanju Bao, left, and Tianshi Zhong, of China, celebrate their gold medals during a ceremony for the track cycling women's team sprint finals at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Izu, Japan. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

TOKYO — The image of Communist China’s founding leader, Mao , made an unscheduled appearance at the Tokyo Olympics, and therefore the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday it’s “looking into the matter.”

The gesture — Mao pin badges worn by two Chinese gold medalists at their medal ceremony — risks being judged a breach of Olympic Charter Rule 50, which prohibits political statements on stage at the Tokyo Games — and at the upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

After winning the women’s sprint in track cycling Monday, Bao Shanju and Zhong Tianshi wore pin badges of Mao. The communist leader who proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 remains an iconic figure in China 45 years after his death in 1976.

The incident came at some point after American shot-put silver medalist Raven Saunders crossed the wrists of her raised arms on stage . She was standing next to the gold medalist from China.

It was unclear Tuesday if the Mao pins were a response to the shot-put medal ceremony.

“We have contacted the Chinese Olympic Committee, asked them for a report about things ,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said at the daily press conference at the Tokyo Games.

Badges showing Mao’s profile were worn by many many people within the 1960s to point out their loyalty to the Communist Party chairman and therefore the ultra-radical Cultural Revolution he launched in 1966. China’s current party chief, Xi Jinping, has invoked Mao’s image as he tries to market his own status as a history-making Chinese leader.

At a Dominion Day event, Xi appeared on Tiananmen Square in central Beijing during a gray Mao jacket just like one worn by the previous leader during a nearby portrait overlooking the square. Other party leaders at an equivalent event wearing blue business suits.

The IOC has publicized its president Thomas Bach’s regular calls with Xi before the Beijing Olympics opening in February, which human rights activists have tried to brand the “Genocide Games” due to the government’s treatment of Muslim minority Uyghur people in China’s northwest.

At a Tokyo Olympics, where athlete activists were expected to draw attention, Saunders pushed at the bounds of Rule 50 by crossing her wrists to form the form of an X. ”It’s the intersection of where all people that are oppressed meet,” Saunders said when asked to elucidate it.

Saunders turned toward photographers at the Olympic Stadium to form the gesture seconds after she stood facing the Chinese flag during the anthem playing for Gong Lijiao. The U.S. Olympic body is taking no action against Saunders, who it said late Monday “was respectful of her competitors and didn’t violate our rules associated with demonstration.“

The IOC has asked U.S. team officials for more details, Adams said Tuesday, adding it noted popular opinion within the case. There has been wide support for Saunders, who is Black and gay.

Saunders said at the Olympic track her aim was “to show younger folks that regardless of what percentage boxes they struggle to suit you in, you’ll be you and you’ll accept it.”

The IOC has long claimed it’s politically neutral and must maintain that stance to permit quite 200 national teams to arrive and compete at an Olympic Games as equals. Still, the rule prohibiting all athlete protests in Olympic venues was eased slightly within the weeks before the opening ceremony in Tokyo where athletes were expected to check its limits.

Gestures and statements are now allowed inside the sector of play at the beginning line or before a game, though not during competition or at medal ceremonies. Several women’s soccer teams, for instance , kneeled on the sector before kickoff on the primary day of Olympic action on July 21.

The Mao pins, though, were an unexpected twist on the Rule 50 debate. The wearing of such badges declined after 1970 thanks to complaints producing them spent scarce supplies of metal required by Chinese industry. the first Cultural Revolution-era ones are wanted by collectors, both in China and within the West.

Mao images became popular again within the 1990s to precise complaints that ordinary Chinese gained insufficient from wrenching economic changes that caused inflation and layoffs at state.

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