Michael Houston

Friday night was a wild one, guys.

The insidethegames.biz team were in their usual habitat, the Main Press Centre (MPC), typing away furiously with the latest updates from the ongoing scandal surrounding teenage figure skating star Kamila Valieva and recovering from confrontations with UFRs - Unidentified Filming Russians.

My concentration technique when the heat is on is to stick my headphones in, blast some catchy songs and rattle out some copy. This usually lasts a few minutes uninterrupted before our Olympic historian Philip Barker interrupts me to reference The Simpsons or tell me an interesting Olympic fact, of which I am thankful for either way.

However, this time my attention was taken away from a bit of Brigitte Bardot when I heard a few people say "Ukraine". Occasionally I'll overhear a word, check one of the many screens in the MPC, make a remark on the action and get back to my work.

"Ukraine" was followed by "No War" and it was repeated, and repeated and repeated. 

Vladyslav Heraskevych called for
Vladyslav Heraskevych called for "No War in Ukraine" after his third skeleton run ©IOC

By this point I'm back in the room.

A Ukrainian journalist is tapping away as fast as one of us, the British journalists are speculating about what they just saw and senior reporter Geoff Berkeley is getting in contact with colleague Daniel Palmer to get a still from the men's skeleton.

Instinct kicks in, I check out the Olympic information site and find the name Vladyslav Heraskevych, Ukraine, 15th place.

Despite Heraskevych's 18th-place finish after four runs, he was more in the spotlight than the new Olympic champion Christopher Grotheer of Germany after holding up a piece of paper with the message "No War in Ukraine".

The reason this was noteworthy was the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules on political statements, demonstrations and protests at the Olympic Games.

The controversial Rule 50, which is part of the Olympic Charter, states "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas".

In isolation, this rule seems a sound way of stopping the most sinister of political views being shown to the world.

Rule 50 - formerly part of Rule 55 - was formally introduced into the Olympic Charter in 1975 during the reign of Lord Killanin.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously threw up the Black Power salute at the Mexico City 1968 Games ©Getty Images
Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously threw up the Black Power salute at the Mexico City 1968 Games ©Getty Images

Let's start with the good about the rule.

Extreme views - such as white supremacism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism and general jingoism - are prohibited. 

An additional positive for the IOC - of which there are many, hence why it is still part of the Olympic Charter - is, it curbs controversy. 

You have sponsors, television deals, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and Organising Committees to keep content during and in the build-up to the Games. 

In short, it affects the IOC's bottom line, so why allow it to become the Wild West? 

This ruling was challenged in the build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, after several social justice causes gained traction during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those related to racial equality.

It became a headache for the IOC as some NOCs promised athletes they wouldn't punish them for peaceful protests during the Games, meaning a potential conflict could arise between the governing body and the nations competing.

Rules were relaxed slightly to accommodate for the taking of the knee, a sign in many nations of racial solidarity, and it seems that IOC President Thomas Bach and his team are getting a bit softer on the issue.

Heraskevych was not reprimanded for his actions, instead the IOC sent a message laced with conviction over a policy that has often raised more questions than answers on what is and is not allowed.

Vladyslav Heraskevych competed in men's skeleton, finishing 18th ©Getty Images
Vladyslav Heraskevych competed in men's skeleton, finishing 18th ©Getty Images

"We have spoken with the athlete," said the IOC in a statement to insidethegames.

"This was a general call for peace. 

"For the IOC the matter is closed."

Maybe questions would have been asked in the following day's press briefing if it had not been dominated by the latest news on the Kamila Valieva saga - a story first broke by senior reporter Michael Pavitt - but in a way, there wasn't much more to add to the IOC's firm statement.

Much like Bach's speech at the Opening Ceremony - which I admit I rolled my eyes at - the IOC have given peace a chance by allowing these messages to have a platform at the Games.

The Ukrainian slider's gesture sent many of us into a frenzy because of Rule 50 and the potential consequences of his message, which although to many is a call for peace, could also be construed as antagonistic towards Russia.

"No War in Ukraine" referred to Ukraine's accusations that Russia is planning an invasion of the country, with border tensions at its highest point since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

After all, one innocent message can be regarded as aggressive in another country.

Heraskevych's paper will be viewed as a pacifist call by some and as an accusation of a coming invasion to others.

What it does revert back to is the idea that the Olympics is an apolitical event that is solely about the sport, surrounded by rich delegates who make their living by rubbing shoulders with each other and making decisions that impact thousands of athletes and have an influence on the world as a whole.

That the IOC is accepting these messages are important, is a step towards progress at the Games and opens the door for similar messages of peace and unity to be allowed, much in line with the Olympic values and the Charter.

Maybe this isn't a rip-off of a John Lennon song, maybe sport can give athletes a legitimate platform while, as Bach said, "give peace a chance".