North America

US athlete kneels at Pan Am Games to protest racism, Trump and gun violence

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A fencer and a hammer thrower could face possible sanctions after staging political podium protests against US President Donald Trump at the Pan Am Games in Lima.

Two Americans have used their medal-winning moments at the Pan American Games to draw attention to social issues back home.

During their medals ceremonies at the sports festival in Lima, fencer Race Imboden took a knee and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist.

Both athletes could represent the US less than a year from now at the Tokyo Olympics, where similar protests would be seen by a much wider audience.

US fencer Race Imboden gives a thumbs up during his semifinal match at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
US fencer Race Imboden gives a thumbs up during his semifinal match at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru (AAP)
AAP

"Racism, gun control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list" of America's problems, Imboden said in a tweet sent after his team's foil medals ceremony.

"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."

Berry raised her fist as America's national anthem was played to honour her win in the hammer throw. She called out injustice in America "and a president who's making it worse".

Podium 'no place for protests'

The actions by Berry and Imboden will test the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee's resolve to enforce rules that restrict political protests.

The USOPC said in a statement on Sunday that its leadership is reviewing possible consequences. Berry is on the US team that will head to the track and field world championships next month.

"Every athlete competing at the 2019 Pan American Games commits to terms of eligibility, including to refrain from demonstrations that are political in nature," the statement said.

"In these cases, the athletes didn't adhere to the commitment they made to the organising committee and the USOPC. We respect their rights to express their viewpoints, but we are disappointed that they chose not to honour their commitment."

The protests have also split opinions among fellow athletes.

US softball gold medalist Monica Abbott said she supports the right to protest, but not while representing your country at an international competition.

“One thing that makes the US great is that we have this ability to have freedom in a lot of different things, it is a founding principle in our country — freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” she said during the Games closing news conference on Sunday.

US pitcher Monica Abbott said the Pan American Games should be about "bringing people together."
US pitcher Monica Abbott said the Pan American Games should be about "bringing people together."
AAP

“But as an athlete it is our opportunity to put differences aside whether they’re political, they’re athletic, to whether it is the way we look to put those aside to celebrate something that can bring the world together.

“That is what sport is about. That is what I think the Olympic and Pan American vision is about, bringing people together.”

Past athletes take a stand

The history of high-profile protests at the Olympics dates to the 1968 Games in Mexico City, when sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the medals ceremony for the 200m sprint.

The issues haven't changed all that much in the ensuing 50 years.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been out of a job since shortly after he started kneeling during the national anthem before 49ers games in 2016 to protest police brutality and social injustice in America.

San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game in 2016.
San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game in 2016.
AAP

Since then, athletes representing the US have faced scrutiny about what, if any, signs of protest they might show if they land on the podium at an Olympics or other major event.

Among the issues that have been fodder for possible protest have been race relations, the treatment of the LGBT community, social injustice and disagreements with President Donald Trump.

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