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  • Pan Am Protests Draw Warnings


    08/20/19

    (ATR) The U.S. athletes who staged protests during their gold-medal ceremonies two weeks ago at the Pan American Games in Lima are both reprimanded for their behavior.

    Race Imboden, a member of the champion team in the fencing foil event, took a knee while his teammates remained standing during the national anthem. The next day, Gwen Berry, the hammer throw gold medalist, raised a clenched fist on the podium as the anthem came to a close.

    In identical letters to both athletes USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland acknowledges the right of the athletes to express themselves.

    “You have made clear that you were demonstrating to bring attention to the current state of affairs in our country and to call for change. I applaud your decision to be an active citizen. It is admirable. Regardless of one’s viewpoint, it is a fundamental freedom and important obligation that we each hold to participate actively in the pursuit of a better country and a better world,” says Hirshland.

    “I strive to be that kind of citizen too. In fact, many of us who have chosen to work or volunteer for the Olympic and Paralympic movements do so because of the role sport plays in our society. The Olympic Movement is about using sport to make the world a more just and peaceful place,” she continues in the two letters.

    “And while I respect your perspective – and that of every athlete for whom I’m lucky enough to serve – I disagree with the moment and manner in which you chose to express your views. The rules we operate under as members of Team USA exist for important reasons. A prohibition on political protest is not intended to silence important voices. In fact, I am genuinely committed to helping identify better avenues for athletes to make their voices heard,” she says.

    Hirshland goes on to tell Berry and Imboden that ignoring rules against political protest at sports events has the potential to obscure the reason athletes compete at the Pan-American Games, Olympics or Paralympics.

    “The goal of a Games that are free from political speech is to focus our collective energy on the athletes’ performances, and the international unity and harmony each Games seek to advance. When an individual makes his or her grievances, however legitimate, more important than that of their competitors and the competition itself, that unity and harmony is diminished. The celebration of sport, and human accomplishment, is lost,” Hirshland says.

    The letter to each athlete “will serve as a formal reprimand from the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee,” Hirshland says.

    Hirshland notes that the reprimands were drafted in consultation with the Athletes Advisory Council and National Governing Bodies Council, both key constituents of the USOPC.
    Race Imboden takes a knee during the medal ceremony for men's team fencing. (Getty Images)

    “Additionally, the USOPC considers you to be in a probationary period for the next 12 months. This means you could face more serious sanctions for any additional breach of our code of conduct than might otherwise be levied for an athlete in good standing,” she advises.

    That includes the Tokyo Olympics should Imboden or Berry be selected for the U.S. team. While the probation might deter those two from speaking out, other athletes in Tokyo may not be so obligating. The timing of the Tokyo Olympics, in between the Democratic and Republican conventions, could make the event an attractive venue for protests.

    Hirshland promises twice in her letter to the athletes to find an alternative forum to express grievances. The search may be on for a Hyde Park Corner in Tokyo to avoid podium protocol incidents.

    Reported by Ed Hula. For general comments or questions, click here.
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