THE sight of athletes taking a knee has become so widespread within sport in recent years, it has become almost commonplace and is instantly recognisable as a sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The practice began decades ago but shot to prominence in 2016, when NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeled instead of standing during the national anthem ahead of a pre-season game for his side, the San Francisco 49ers.

His actions were, of course, intended to raise awareness of police brutality towards African Americans, which had become a national talking point, and the quarter-back was seeking a dignified way to protest.

His actions caused an outcry; he was branded unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag but Kaepernick persisted.

His commitment to the cause may have cost him his sporting career, but he succeeded in making racial relations a global talking point and taking a knee was adopted by people all over the world who wanted to show their support for people of colour.

In the years since, we have all witnessed similar protests spread through the NFL, as well as into basketball, football, rugby and many more sports.

So popular has taking a knee become, the more controversial stance nowadays is to refuse to do it.

In the English Premier League’s opening game of this season, between Aston Villa and Sheffield United, all 22 players took the knee as the whistle went, while Manchester City have sported the slogan “Black Lives Matter” across the back of their strips.

However, last week it was confirmed there will be no athletes taking a knee at the Tokyo Olympics, which begin in three months. Or rather, taking a knee might still happen, but any athlete who chooses to do so will be heavily punished.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed their Rule 50, which forbids any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in venues and any other Olympic area, and the Games body concluded the rule will be maintained for the Tokyo Games.

A consultation of more than 3,500 athletes from 185 countries was carried out, with 70 per cent of respondents saying it is not appropriate to demonstrate or express their views on the field of play or at official ceremonies, while 67 per cent said expressing such views on the podium was inappropriate.

As a result, protests such as taking a knee will likely be absent from the Olympics this summer.

For some, this will be a welcome development. The opinion that sport and politics should not mix is a long-held belief by many and in lots of cases, blending of the two results in little good.

However, it is hard to see how banning the take-a-knee protest in Tokyo entirely is good for sport or for athletes, with more and more people recognising the good that can come from athletes speaking out for what they believe in.

There are few who are not familiar with the Black Power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists on the podium at the 1968 Olympics as a protest against racial injustice in America.

They were, however, heavily punished for daring to perform such an act.

Only this month, GB’s top heptathlete and gold medal prospect Katarina Johnson-Thompson revealed she would have been open to taking a knee on the podium if she wins a medal in Tokyo to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

She will no longer have the opportunity, not legally anyway.

In prohibiting these kinds of protests, the Olympics have made themselves something of an outlier in the sporting world.

After much work by the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which comprises former and current athletes, it has been confirmed there will be opportunities for athletes to express their views through social media and press conferences, as well as at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Tokyo Games.

This is better than nothing. Of course, a blanket ban on protests would be far worse than merely banning it on the field of play and at medal ceremonies.

But without allowing such actions to take place on the most visible of platforms – the field of play and on podiums – the impact will be much reduced.

While Kaepernick may not have eradicated racism, he has done more than most, and certainly more than almost any other athlete, to bring the issue of race into the wider conversation.

The Olympics is by far the most prominent platform any athlete will ever have and so if they want to let their views be known, political or otherwise, it seems unfair to deprive them of this.

Of course, athletes should not feel obliged to take a stance on anything, particularly at the Olympics, where they may prefer to focus solely on the sport.

But for those who are keen to show support for certain causes, as long as it is in a peaceful and non-disruptive manner, they should be permitted.

Trying to keep politics entirely out of sport any longer is futile. Politics and sport are mixing, and that’s a good thing.