The U.S. women’s national soccer team joined other countries in taking a knee at the opening matches of the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, the first demonstrations at the Games following updated guidance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on acceptable forms of protest.
The U.S. and Swedish squads gathered on the field before all 11 starters from both teams dropped to one knee at the sound of the referee’s whistle to start the match.
The move has become a popular symbol among athletes to condemn racial injustice, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year and other police killings of Black individuals.
Yahoo Sports reported that the U.S. and Sweden team members knelt for 10 seconds as part of the previously planned demonstrations before rising and beginning the match, which took place two days ahead of the official Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony scheduled for Friday.
Members of the British and Chilean teams also knelt ahead of their match on Wednesday.
While the IOC had for years banned these types of protests from taking place at Olympic events, continued pushback resulted in the committee releasing new guidelines earlier this month that athletes may demonstrate through actions such as kneeling or fist-raising in specific settings, including on the field of play prior to the start of competition.
The IOC said athletes may also engage in forms of protest when speaking to members of the media, at team meetings, through social media platforms and other specified venues.
IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Kirsty Coventry said in a statement at the time that the “new guidelines are a result of our extensive consultation with the global athletes’ community.”
“While the guidelines offer new opportunities for athletes to express themselves prior to the competition, they preserve the competitions on the Field of Play, the ceremonies, the victory ceremonies and the Olympic Village,” Coventry added. “This was the wish of a big majority of athletes in our global consultation.”
U.S. captain Megan Rapinoe said following the team’s opening match Wednesday that kneeling is “an opportunity for us to continue to use our voices and use our platforms to talk about the things that affect all of us intimately in different ways.”
“We have people from Team USA, from all over the country, from all backgrounds, and people literally from all over the world for every other team,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “So, I obviously encourage everyone to use that platform to the best of their ability to do the most good that they possibly can in the world, especially as all eyes are on Tokyo these next couple weeks.”
The U.S. women’s team went on to lose 3-0 to Sweden in a shocking upset as the Americans look to add to their collection of four Olympic gold medals, more than any other women’s national team.