Team GB’s footballers have made Olympic history by becoming the first athletes to protest on the field of play within International Olympic Committee rules.
Hege Riise’s side took the knee to raise awareness of racism and discrimination - continuing a trend which many players are used to for their club and individual nations - before their opening 2-0 win over Chile at Tokyo 2020.
Their opponents followed by repeating the gesture, and the USA and Sweden did the same ahead of the latter’s shock 3-0 victory later on.
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The IOC has only recently relaxed regulations on displays of activism, amending its controversial ‘Rule 50’. The amended law now means that athletes can make a stand before their events, on social media and in interviews. But they would still be punished if they protest during competition, on the podium, in the Olympic village or during the opening and closing ceremonies.
The rule, which changed earlier this month, states that athletes ‘must respect the applicable laws, the Olympic values and their fellow athletes. It should be recognised that any behaviour and/or expression that constitutes or signals discrimination, hatred, hostility or the potential for violence on any basis whatsoever is contrary to the Fundamental Principles of Olympism.’
"As players in Great Britain we've been taking the knee in club and international matches and we felt strongly as a group that we wanted to show support for those affected by discrimination and equality," said captain Steph Houghton.
"It was a proud moment because the Chile players took the knee too to show how united we are as sport."
The IOC bowed to pressure from athletes to amend the rule following pressure from sports men and women, including Britain’s Adam Gemili, who told Eurosport in April that he would be willing to bear the consequences of a punishment by making a stand if it was not changed.

Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh take the knee for Team GB

Image credit: Getty Images

In April, the sprinter said: “We are not in the public eye that often, so when we do get that moment, why are we not able to use our voices like other athletes do?
"We are protesting as the minority and the fact that they [the IOC] are trying to limit that goes against everything the Olympics says it stands for. I get sport has to be separate from politics. “But this is more than politics; this is humanitarian and about decency – this is not political at all. It is so disappointing that if that moment comes [making the podium], I am not allowed to really have a voice, to do anything.”
Team GB’s footballers made a decision last week that they would take the knee before their games, having done the same before matches in the Women’s Super League, and for the majority of the squad, while playing for England.
But athletes will not be permitted to do something similar to the infamous stand of Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos at the 1968 Games in Mexico, when they both wore black gloves on the podium during the US national anthem, with Smith saying it was a “human rights” salute.
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