AP Photo/Pool Photo/Dean Mouhtaropoulos

U.S. Women's Soccer Team Kneels Before First Olympic Match

Kneeling at sporting events has been a controversial topic ever since NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice back in 2016.

The subject heightened last year during the NBA Bubble in Orlando following the death of George Floyd. It's also made its way to the Tokyo Olympics.

Before the opening matches of the Olympic women's soccer tournament, several teams knelt to protest racism, including the U.S. Women's National Team. This, unsurprisingly, has caused quite a stir among fans back home in the states.

However, it's important to note the USWNT didn't kneel during the anthem.

U.S. Women's Soccer Team Kneels Before Olympic Opener

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The USWNT was set to kick things off against Sweden at Tokyo Stadium. Before the soccer match officially kicked off, both teams and a referee knelt in a pre-planned demonstration while pregame music played to empty seats.

After about 10 seconds, the players and ref rose to commence the game. All 18 U.S. players stood for the National Anthem, according to fact-checking website Snopes.

The American and Swedish teams weren't the only ones to kneel. Players from Great Britain, Chile, New Zealand and Australia joined in.

For Chile, they weren't aware their British opponents were going to kneel. Once the Chilean team players saw what was going on, they followed.

"It was an issue of not being in sync," Chile midfielder Karen Araya said, via the Charlotte Observer. "We weren't able to communicate properly due to the language. The moment we saw the English taking the knee right away we decided to do the same and of course we are in favor of this type of thing."

British Olympian Steph Houghton explained the reasoning behind her team's kneeling. Per the Associated Press:

"We felt strongly as a group that we wanted to show support for those affected by discrimination and equality," Britain captain Steph Houghton said after the 2-0 win over Chile. "It was a proud moment because the Chile players took the knee too to show how united we are as sport."

IOC Loosened Rules on Protests & Demonstrations

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had a strict policy on demonstrations for the 2020 Olympic Games, but it loosened restrictions as long as its not disruptive or targeted against specific people, countries or organizations.

USWNT star Megan Rapinoe made waves when she knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick in 2017. The entire team started standing for the Anthem again in the group stage of the SheBelieves Cup against Brazil in Orlando, Florida. The team wore "Black Lives Matter" warm up jackets ahead of the match.

Team USA defender Crystal Dunn explained to NBC the reasoning behind moving away from kneeling for the Anthem:

"I think those that were collectively kneeling felt like we were kneeling to bring about attention to police brutality and systemic racism," Dunn said in her post-game press conference. "I think we decided that moving forward we no longer feel the need to kneel because we are doing the work behind the scenes. We are combating systemic racism. And we never felt we were going to kneel forever, so there was always going to be a time that we felt it was time to stand. I think we're all proud that we are doing the work behind the scenes and it was just a game that we felt we were ready to move into the next phase and just continuously fight for change."

The Tokyo Games officially get underway with the opening ceremony on July 23rd. USA women's basketball player Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez will be the country's flag bearers.

Thanks to a spike in the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympics will be without fans. It'll be a completely different look for the world's biggest sporting event, but the competition will still be fierce.

And, as of now, you can expect more teams than just Team USA to be kneeling before the anthem is played.

Note: The image used for this article is not from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is from an international friendly between the USWNT and The Netherlands from November, 2020. The fact remains that the USWNT knelt prior to its first Olympic match in Tokyo.

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