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The British footballers knelt on the first day of competition at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, in a protest against discrimination and racism which was quickly returned by their opponents from Chile.
It was the first time that Olympians in Japan have used newly relaxed rules on athletes expressing their opinions.
“We have talked about getting down on our knees as a group. We feel so strong and we want to show that we are united,” Steph Houghton, one of the British co-captains, said as quoted by the BBC. “We want to fight against all forms of discrimination and as a group of women we wanted to kneel down against that.”
The footballers of the American and Swedish women’s teams also knelt before their match, in which Sweden upset the Americans. Just before the start of the game, a referee joined the players in the midfield by falling to the grass on one knee. An assistant referee also took a knee.
Other athletes, including the New Zealand women’s soccer team, also knelt on their knees on Wednesday. Their opponents from Australia remained standing with their arms entwined. Moments earlier, the Matilas had posed for a photo of their team holding a large flag depicting the Aboriginal people of Australia – a banner that was first raised 50 years ago.
“We are delighted that the IOC has made room for athletes to use their voices for good at the Olympic Games and are proud of our athletes for taking a global stand for greater racial equality,” said Rob Waddell , who is the representative of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. chef de mission for the Tokyo Games.
New Zealand says its Olympic delegation includes 33 athletes of Maori descent.
On July 2, the International Olympic Committee relaxed its rules on “athlete expression”, detailing the means by which Olympians can express their opinions while respecting IOC Rule 50, which aims to preserve the neutrality of the Olympic Games. .
Under the new guidelines, athletes in Tokyo can kneel or perform similar gestures as long as their actions do not target specific people or countries and are not disruptive.
The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics is scheduled for Friday. Major tournament-format sports such as softball and soccer kicked off their first rounds of group play on Wednesday.