Two Americans have used medal-winning moments at the Pan American Games to draw attention to social issues back home.
During their medals ceremonies at the competition in Lima, fencer Race Imboden took a knee and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist.
Both athletes could represent the US at the Tokyo Olympics in less thn a year – where similar protests would be seen by a much wider audience.
“Racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list” of America’s problems, Imboden said in a tweet sent after his team’s foil medals ceremony.
“I chose to sacrifice my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed.
“I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.”
We must call for change.
This week I am honored to represent Team USA at the Pan Am Games, taking home Gold and Bronze. My pride however has been cut short by the multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear to my heart. Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, pic.twitter.com/deCOKaHQI9
— Race Imboden (@Race_Imboden) August 10, 2019
Imboden told The New York Times he was “pretty nervous” about kneeling during the ceremony. But, he said he spoke to his teammates before.
“I asked them if they were OK with me doing it, and they were fine,” he said.
Berry raised her fist as America’s national anthem was played to honour her win in the hammer throw. She called out injustice in America “and a president who’s making it worse”.
“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about,” she told USA Today.
“It’s too important to not say something … If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”
The history of high-profile protests at the Olympics dates to the 1968 Games in Mexico City, when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medals ceremony for the 200-metre sprint.
The issues haven’t changed all that much in the ensuing 50 years.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) August 11, 2019
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been out of a job since shortly after he started kneeling during the national anthem before 49ers games in 2016 to protest police brutality and social injustice in America.
Since then, athletes representing the US have faced scrutiny about what, if any, signs of protest they might show if they land on the podium at an Olympics or other major event.
Among the issues that have been fodder for possible protest have been race relations, the treatment of the LGBT community, social injustice and disagreements with President Donald Trump.
The actions by Berry and Imboden will test the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s resolve to enforce rules that restrict political protests.
The USOPC said on Sunday that its leadership was reviewing possible consequences. Berry is on the US team that will head to the track and field world championships next month.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” the statement said.
“In these cases, the athletes didn’t adhere to the commitment they made to the organising committee and the USOPC. We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honour their commitment.”
Imboden said the prospect of sanctions “scares me a lot”.
“But I don’t regret my actions,” he said.