The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is investigating two Chinese cyclists who wore brooches bearing the image of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Revolution and founder of the People’s Republic of China, at the awards ceremony.
An IOC spokesman said the Chinese Olympic Committee had been contacted to report on the incident.
Pao Shanju and Jong Tianshi won the bicycle doubles event on Monday (02/08). Their use of the brooch may violate Olympic rules, which prohibit political demonstrations at international events.
Article 50 of the Olympic Charter states, “No political, religious or ethnic opposition or propaganda shall be permitted at any of the Olympic venues or other areas.”
Last month the rules were relaxed to allow athletes to “express their opinions” before and after the competition, which led to athletes kneeling in criticism of racism without experiencing restrictions.
But gestures and demonstrations are prohibited during competitions and medal ceremonies.
Mao Zedong ruled China with an iron fist from 1949 until his death in 1976. He was blamed for the greatest humanitarian catastrophe in history, the Great Leap Perspective campaign aimed at modernizing China. Chinese agriculture and industry, widely developed famine level and caused the death of 45 million people.
When asked about the problems of Chinese cyclists, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the team “looks into the matter.”
The IOC is also investigating Raven Sanders, an American shot put athlete who crossed his arms when he was awarded the silver medal.
Sanders, a black and gay man, said the gesture reflected “a meeting where all the downtrodden meet.”
The IOC asked the US team for more details about the episode. Sanders received widespread support for his move, including organizers of the US Olympic Committee. The IOC said it would take this into account in its decision.
Billions of Mao brooches were made in China in the 1960s. Because that amount was so large that it consumed important metals eventually their production had to be restricted.
They were used during the Cultural Revolution in China to express allegiance to Mao, but they are still popular. Xi Jinping, the current leader of China, tried to create the image of Mao, the former leader wearing the famous gray dress, to mark the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party.
Chinese state newspaper expresses interest in Mao – then deletes post
Kerry Allen, BBC News Chinese analyst
On Monday, Chinese state media Global Times posted a photo of the two gold-winning cyclists on Twitter. In that tweet, he said, “Zhang Tianxi and Pao Shanxu wore Mao’s brooch during the medal ceremony.”
An hour later, the post was deleted. Activists soon began to criticize the newspaper and athletes, accusing them of promoting political identity at the Olympics.
A similar post on the same newspaper’s Weibo (Chinese social network) account: “Look! Mao is in the chest of the champions.” That too was removed, but only after airing for six hours and attracting more than 10,000 likes.
The Global Times Weibo has more than 30 million followers. Therefore, many in China soon became aware of the use of brooch.
This sparked many debates. Some said it was commendable that young Chinese athletes wanted to recognize the country’s history. Others said it was a “blessing” that the new generation wanted to honor their ancestors.
Mao Zedong’s legacy is strongly rooted in China and is intertwined in education, culture and movies, with some claiming that cyclists are “national heroes” today.
However, given Mao’s controversial tradition, other views are highly critical. Some asked if the newspaper vehicle was “afraid” of having deleted newspaper posts and the consequences for athletes.
Many refer to the Cultural Revolution and one person called the gesture of athletes “ignorance”, which shows that not everyone has a positive view of the Mao era.
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