Shot Putter’s Gesture Renews Controversy over Podium Protests at Tokyo Games
TOKYO – In the morning, American Raven Saunders won the silver medal in the shot put.
On the night, Saunders delivered the first political demonstration on the podium at the Tokyo Olympics when she raised her arms and crossed them in an ‘X’ shape after receiving her medal, setting the stage for a standoff between the Committee. international Olympic and Olympic. leaders for the United States.
Organizations have conflicting rules and views regarding the exercise of freedom of expression during the Olympics.
Asked after the medal ceremony as she walked to a phalanx of television cameras about the meaning of the gesture, Saunders said he was “for the oppressed”.
Minutes later, an American fencer, Race Imboden, stepped onto the podium at another location after the United States won the bronze medal in foil. He had an “X” circled on his hand. In 2019, Imboden knelt during the national anthem at the Pan American Games.
Photos taken during Sunday’s bronze medal match show that Imboden did not have the symbol on his hand during the competition. It was unclear what the mark meant, but U.S. Olympics officials said they had started to hear in recent days that athletes were planning protests.
The IOC and its counterparts in the United States were quick to say the other side would take care of the matter.
From the IOC’s perspective, Saunders’ gesture appeared to be a blatant violation of the ban on holding political protests on the podium or during competitions, even though the organization has relaxed its rules against protests in recent months. in other areas controlled by the Olympic Committee.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has a different set of rules and has said it will no longer punish athletes who exercise their right to free speech, as long as they do not express hatred.
Saunders could face a wide range of sanctions, from a reprimand to the removal of his medals and a ban from future competitions. But it is not known what will happen because the IOC has refused to detail the sanctions in case of violation.
Minutes after Saunders’ demonstration, Mark Adams, the IOC’s chief spokesperson, said the initial decision rested with the athlete’s National Olympic Committee, as as part of the process these organizations are tasked with monitoring the athlete behavior.
Jon Mason, spokesperson for the US Olympic Committee, first said on Sunday evening that the organization was reviewing the gestures, but then said the IOC would take the lead. He said U.S. officials have been told the IOC will address the issue at its next daily press briefing on Monday morning.
The great rift between IOC leaders and their American counterparts on the issue became public in June 2020, when Casey Wasserman, the head of the organizing committee for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, urged the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, to end the ban on the organization of political events at the Games.
Then, in December, US Olympic officials announced that they would not punish American athletes who spoke out during the Games, as long as they did not express hatred towards or attack any person or group.
The United States has taken the position of not punishing or berating athletes who make political statements, regardless of what sanction the IOC decides to impose. National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations can suspend athletes from competition, and as signatories to the Olympic Charter, they must theoretically execute a sanction demanded by the IOC
“They have authority and jurisdiction and a unique set of sanctions,” USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said last week of international Olympic leaders. “We are sitting in a different seat.”
Bach ordered the IOC Athletes’ Commission to investigate the matter. The commission carried out a survey according to which two-thirds of the athletes who responded were in favor of keeping the competition field and the podium free from demonstrations. The IOC changed its rules slightly in the spring, but said in June that athletes would be allowed to exercise their right to free speech anywhere except during competitions and awards ceremonies.
Saunders, 25, has worked as a racial justice and mental health advocate.
She won the silver medal throwing the shot put at 64 feet 11 inches. China’s Lijiao Gong won the gold medal with a throw of 67 feet 6 inches. New Zealander Valerie Adams won bronze.
Saunders, nicknamed The Hulk, has spoken openly about her struggle with depression in an effort to de-stigmatize conversations about mental health.
She left the sport in 2018 after attempting to kill herself. In early 2020, she reported her return to Tweeter: “If it weren’t for texting an old therapist, I wouldn’t be here.”
She became a star during the US Olympic Trials in June, wearing bold masks during the competition.
In Tokyo, she stared at the contestants and reveled in the joy of the Games, moving her hips in celebration.
“If you are BLACK, LGBTQIA +, or mentally challenged. This one’s for you, ”she posted on Instagram, shortly after taking home the money.
Imboden, a left-handed foil, has been a dominant figure in his sport – a three-time Olympian, former world No.1 and the first American to win the overall World Cup title.
But for all of his track accomplishments, Imboden, 28, is perhaps best known for being one of two American athletes, along with hammer thrower Gwen Berry, to demonstrate at the 2019 Pan Am Games.
Imboden said he wanted to highlight issues such as “racism, gun control, immigrant mistreatment and a president who spreads hatred.”
The Pan Am Games protest outraged the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, which slapped Imboden and Berry with 12 months probation each, and warned that future protests would result in stiffer penalties.
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