The US and Team GB women’s football teams took the knee during their opening matches in the Olympics today, despite the Games organisers banning their official social media teams from posting pictures of the gesture.
All players took part in the gesture prior to kick-off between four-time Olympic champions the US and Sweden in Tokyo, an hour after Team GB and Chile did likewise in Sapporo.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently relaxed the rules for protests at the Games, softening a long-standing ban on political protests at the global sporting event.
But it was revealed today that the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers have forbidden their social media teams from sharing photos showing athletes taking the knee.
No images of the gesture have been posted on the official Tokyo 2020 live blog or its social media pages, nor on the IOC’s platforms.
A source told The Guardian the IOC’s stance was odd considering its celebration of former protests at the Games including the iconic image of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in solidarity with black people in 1968.
Lucy Bronze of Team GB takes a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to their opening game against Chile in the Olympics
Alex Morgan of the US and Hanna Glas of Sweden take part in the gesture at the start of their clash in Tokyo
Athletes will now be allowed to take a knee before play begins to highlight racial injustice, speak to the media and post online about their views, or wear clothing with a protest slogan at a press conference.
But political statements during events, victory ceremonies and at the Olympic Village are still off the cards, the IOC said.
‘For us it really feels right to stand up for human rights,’ Swedish defender Amanda Ilestedt told reporters after her team’s 3-0 victory.
‘It was a communication with the U.S. team before, so for us it feels good to do that and it is something we stand for as a team.’
For Team GB captain Steph Houghton it was important to follow through with a promise made before the Games.
‘Taking the knee was something we spoke about as a group. We feel so strongly and we want to show we’re united,’ she said.
‘We want to fight all forms of discrimination and as a group of women we wanted to kneel against it.
‘It was a proud moment because the Chile players took the knee too to show how united we are as sport.’
All 22 players took part in the gesture prior to kick-off between four-time Olympic champions the US and Sweden in Tokyo
New Zealand also took the knee in their match against Australia at the Tokyo Stadium while their opponents did not.
However, the Australia players held the country’s indigenous flag when they posed for their pre-game team photo.
Taking the knee, which has become widely used in the Premier League since the Black Lives Matter protests last year, proved controversial in the Euro 2020 tournament with some fans booing the gesture.
Black players in the England men’s team were subjected to a storm of online racist abuse this month after their final defeat, drawing widespread condemnation from the squad’s captain, manager, royalty, religious leaders and politicians.
But the women’s players at the Olympics did not have to contend with fan backlash as they were playing in front of empty stadiums.
The matches are being played in front of empty stadiums due to the ongoing Covid situation in Japan
Team GB won the Group E opener in Sapporo 2-0, with Manchester City striker Ellen White scoring twice and having a goal disallowed by VAR for offside.
Hege Riise’s side are bidding to become the first British team to win an Olympic football medal.
Lauren Hemp’s header put the ball in front of Ellen White for a close-in goal in the 18th minute. White’s second goal was a volley to the far post in the 75th.
Chile, ranked No. 37 in the world, was making its Olympic debut. Known as La Roja, Chile qualified for Tokyo by beating Cameroon 2-1 in an intercontinental playoff.
Meanwhile Sweden pulled off a shock result, beating favourites the US by 3-0.