We will not be silenced: Rapinoe on protest ban

LAUSANNE • United States World Cup icon Megan Rapinoe on Friday vowed that athletes "will not be silenced", after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) warned against political protests at this year's Tokyo Olympics.

"So much being done about the protests," the footballer said in an Instagram post. "So little being done about what we are protesting about.

"We will not be silenced."

Her comments were accompanied by a graphic showing fists raised through the interlocking rings - under the crossed out words "kneeling, hand gestures, signs".

The post comes after IOC chief Thomas Bach reiterated that political protests are banned on the field of play, at the Olympic Village, during the opening and closing ceremonies, and on the medal podium.

"The Olympic Games are not and must never be a platform to advance political or any other divisive ends," he said on Friday to an audience that included the heads of international sports federations.

"Our political neutrality is undermined whenever organisations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas, as legitimate as they may be."

The guidelines issued on Thursday by the IOC, on specific actions that are banned and will draw sanctions, come after two US athletes were reprimanded in August by the US Olympic Committee for medal-podium protests at the Pan American Games in Lima.

Fencer Race Imboden knelt on one knee and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised a fist. Both received 12-month probations.

A month earlier, at swimming's world championships, athletes from Britain and Australia refused to share a podium with Chinese champion Sun Yang because they objected to his participation over doping concerns.

Rapinoe has been outspoken on political issues during her career, speaking out about issues including gender equality and racism.

In 2016, she joined former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial inequality in America.

Taking a knee, making hand gestures with political meaning, and refusing to respect fellow medallists on the podium are highlighted as "divisive disruption" in the guidelines.

Athletes could be sent home from Tokyo as part of three potential rounds of disciplinary action - by their team, their sport and the IOC.

Some athlete groups have also criticised what they see as a double standard where politics is concerned.

Global Athlete, a pressure group, said the IOC's leaders have long politicised sport when it suited them, citing Bach's efforts to support a joint North and South Korean team at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

"If athletes want to speak up... we should embrace their diverse opinions," the group said. "Silencing athletes should never be tolerated, and to threaten them with removal from the Olympic Games is another sign of the imbalance of power between sport leaders and athletes."

ASSOCIATED PRESS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 12, 2020, with the headline 'We will not be silenced: Rapinoe on protest ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe