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Raven Saunders’s Olympics protest didn’t break rules, US officials say, as she’s backed by Simone Biles

Shot-putter being investigated by International Olympic Committee

Josh Marcus,Louise Hall
Monday 02 August 2021 16:07 BST
Simone Biles says mental health issues behind Olympics withdrawal
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US Olympic officials have said that Raven Saunders’s public protest in the shape of an “X” while on the winner’s podium did not break any rules, as the athlete receives support from teammate Simone Biles.

Ms Saunders is being investigated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for launching a public protest after winning silver in the women’s shot put on Sunday.

Afterwards, the 25-year-old said the gesture represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet”.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams said on Monday that it was in contact with World Athletics, the international governing body for the sport, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) following the demonstration.

The controversy comes as Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter bans political gestures at the games, saying that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted”.

However, the USOPC said in a statement sent to Reuters that they had conducted their own review and ruled Saunders did not break any rules.

“As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020,” the USOPC said.

They said her “peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice ... was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration”.

Star gymnast Simone Biles also made a show of support for her USA teammate on Monday, posting a supportive graphic of the athlete to her Instagram story.

The graphic showed Saunders making the “X” gesture on the podium and featured a quote the shotputter had posted to her own social media regarding the moment.

“Gave EVERYTHING for this. If you are BLACK, LGBTQIA+, Or mentally Struggling. This one is for you,” the quote on the graphic, which was shared by Ms Biles, read.

The gymnast also rocked the sporting world when she pulled out of the women’s gymnastics team final on Tuesday, citing concerns about her mental and physical health.

Ms Saunders is gay, and has also been open about her struggles with mental health.

She has often sported a multi-coloured shaved head and face masks with different comic book characters like The Hulk and The Joker during the Olympic trials and games.

Not long after Ms Saunders made the “X” symbol, another American athlete made a similar gesture on the podium.

When US fencer Race Imboden took the podium at a different venue to collect his bronze medal, he had an “X” with a circle around it drawn on his hand, which wasn’t present during the competition.

Ms Saunders and Mr Imboden could have their medals stripped or be barred from competition under the IOC’s regulations.

However, last month the body relaxed its Rule 50, now allowing them to make gestures on the field, provided they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.

Commentators lauded Ms Biles, as well as tennis star Naomi Osaka, for encouraging women of colour to be open about their struggles with mental health.

The attitude marks a major culture shift from when athletes, especially those from minority groups, in past generations were told to “stick to sports”.

US runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both of whom are Black, were famously expelled from the Games in 1968 after they raised a Black Power fist during a medal ceremony.

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