US football star Megan Rapinoe has hit back at a new protest policy introduced for the Tokyo Olympics. The new rules will ban kneeling and political hand gestures at Olympic events, but it is unlikely to perturb Rapinoe.
Megan Rapinoe has forged her reputation on the football pitch thanks to her incisive runs, intelligent positioning and ice-cool finishing. But off the pitch, her political views and well-documented protests have elevated her reputation beyond just sport.
But under new rules introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Rapinoe's political views could be quashed when she makes an expected appearance at Tokyo 2020 with the US national team.
A new three-page policy announced this week states that kneeling, political hand gestures or disrespect during medal ceremonies will not be tolerated.
Rapinoe made headlines back in 2016 for kneeling during the US national anthem in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. She has continued that protest ever since and refused to sing the anthem at the recent World Cup.
She responded to the IOC's announcement in typical style on Instagram, saying athletes "will not be silenced".
Quite what kind of punishment Rapinoe or any other athlete would get for breaking the new rules is so far unclear.
"Each incident will be evaluated by their respective National Olympic Committee, International Federation and the IOC, and disciplinary action will be taken on a case-by-case basis as necessary," is all the policy offers.
The new document clarifies ambiguity in Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter which merely states that, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
It follows protests by two US athletes at the recent Pan American Games, with fencer Race Imboden kneeling and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raising a fist in protest during medal ceremonies. Both were put on a 12-month probation by the US Olympic Committee.
Berry joined Rapinoe's opposition to the new policy, telling Yahoo Sports that it was "crazy".
"It's like, 'If you do something, you'll get in trouble, but we won't tell you what it is'. It's just crazy. It's a form of control," she said.
All eyes on Tokyo
Political gestures are also banned in the field of play and in the Olympic Village, though athletes are permitted to voice opinions in official media events and on social media.
It's clear the IOC want to keep politics away from the Tokyo Olympics and this move echoes President Thomas Bach's wish earlier this year for the Games to be "politically neutral".
All eyes will now be on Rapinoe and her fellow athletes to see how they respond to the guidelines at the Tokyo Games, and how any form of protest gets punished.
js/mp (AFP, Reuters)