(ATR) Politics and sport are not supposed to mix at events like the Pan American Games.
Race Imboden takes a knee during the medal ceremony for men's team fencing. (Getty Images)
But two gold medal athletes from the U.S have caused a stir after using their time on the podium to make a statement in Lima. And it raises questions over whether the Tokyo Olympics will offer an even higher profile stage for protestors.
Fencer Race Imboden, who won in the team foil competition on Friday, knelt on the podium while the national anthem was played. He followed the "take a knee" protest launched by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Gwen Berry, the hammer throw champ, raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after her win on Saturday. She mirrored the black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
Imboden, in a statement on Twitter, said “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, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list. 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.”
Imboden’s teammates on the podium, Gerek Meinhardt and Nick Itkin, remained standing.
Gwen Berry of the US during the hammer throw medal ceremony. (Lima 2019)
Berry told USA Today
“Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse. 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.”
It is against PanAm Sports statutes for athletes to make political statements at the Games. The organization’s executive committee is tasked with handing out punishment if necessary. Panam Sports declined to comment when asked by Around the Rings
about the protests.
The demonstrations are also not permitted by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
Spokesman Mark Jones says both instances are being reviewed by USOPC management. It is not clear what consequences either will face.
“Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature,” Jones says in a statement. He says the USOPC respects the right of athletes to express viewpoints, but says it is "disappointed" the athletes did not follow the rules in this regard.
The incidents with Berry and Imboden may presage more protests on an even bigger stage in 2020: the Tokyo Olympics. The timing of Tokyo will coincide with the final months
of the U.S. presidential campaign, perhaps fueling more statements by medal-winning members of Team USA. How the USOPC handles these expressions of opinion may indeed test whether problems can be avoided in Tokyo.
Monica Abbott, gold medalist and star pitcher of the USA’s women’s softball team, told a media briefing on Sunday morning that she doesn’t agree with the protests.
U.S. softball gold medalist Monica Abbott says she opposes athlete protests on the podium. (Lima 2019)
“It’s a founding principle in our country, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, but as an athlete it’s our opportunity to put differences aside -- whether they’re political, whether they’re athletic, whether it’s the way that we look -- put those aside to celebrate something that can bring the world together and that’s what sports is about and that is what I think the Olympic and Pan American vision is about.”
Imboden and Berry may be the first athletes to delve into politics at Lima 2019, but there have been two other cases of guests who have made it clear where they stand politically.
Athletics icon Carl Lewis on Monday called U.S. President Donald Trump a racist and misogynist during a media briefing ahead of the athletics competition. Lewis is in Lima as a coach.
Ahead of the Opening Ceremony, the star performer Luis Fonsi used a July 22 briefing with reporters to support his fellow Puerto Ricans protesting in the streets for the resignation of the island’s governor.
Written by Gerard Farek in Lima.
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