Players on five women’s soccer teams took a knee before the early matches of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – protests allowed by updated IOC rules.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has spent the year in a bit of a standoff with athletes over Rule 50.2 of the Olympic Charter. That rule governs how and when athletes are allowed to express themselves at the Olympic Games. Previously, the rule strictly banned things like protests or political statements on Olympic podiums and on the field of play.
But as athletes have pushed for more opportunities to use their platforms to speak out against injustices, many have criticized Rule 50. Earlier this month, the IOC released a new version of the rule, which for the first time allows athletes to express themselves on the field of play, but only prior to competition.
Before the opening ceremonies had even kicked off in Tokyo, the rule was already put to the test. Several women’s soccer matches took place before the opening ceremonies, and members of five different teams took a knee on the field before the start of their matches.
Taking a knee has become the go-to protest opposing racism ever since former NFL player Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the U.S. national anthem in 2016. Members of the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team knelt on the field before their first match, and their opponent, Sweden, also knelt in solidarity in a stand for human rights. Members of the British and Chilean Olympic soccer teams also knelt before their match.
Members of New Zealand’s team took a knee before their match with Australia. According to CNN, the Australian team remained standing but locked their arms in solidarity and also spoke out in support of Indigenous Australians after the match.
“It is allowed, it is not a violation of the rules,” Bach said.
Within swimming, we notably did not see any pool deck protests during the U.S. Olympic Trials. But that event also did not feature a podium, nor the playing of the national anthem during awards ceremonies. (Hammer thrower Gwen Barry stirred conversation during the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials by turning away from the flag – and even she noted afterwards that the event was typically not playing the anthem while athletes were on the podium, and she was able to stay out of the spotlight during the other times the anthem had been played).
The new IOC rule 50 does still prohibit athletes from expressing themselves on the podium, so once medals start being awarded, the updated rule will face its biggest test as athletes decide whether to extend their protests to the very-visible venue of the Olympic podium.