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Players take the knee ahead of an opening round women's football match between the U.S. and Sweden at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Noriko Hayashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S. and Swedish women's soccer teams took a knee ahead of their match Wednesday to protest racism and discrimination.

The big picture: The International Olympic Committee issued new guidelines allowing athletes to "express their views" more freely than in the past. The organization relaxed its protest rules in the wake of 2020's global racial reckoning, Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

State of play: Prior to the U.S.-Sweden game, the British female soccer team took a knee shortly after referees blew their whistle to indicate the start of the game. Their Chilean opponents quickly reciprocated the gesture, per AP.

  • During the final women's soccer game of the day, the Australian team posed with an Indigenous flag and linked arms before kickoff while their New Zealand counterparts took a knee.

Driving the news: The soccer players were the first athletes to use the Olympic platform to protest, a move which "is expected to be the first of many political statements by Olympic athletes," Axios' Ina Fried writes.

What they're saying: "We are delighted that the IOC has made room for athletes to use their voices for good at the Olympic Games and are proud of our athletes for making a global stand for greater racial equality," said Rob Waddell, the New Zealand Olympic Committee's chef de mission for the Tokyo Games.

Go deeper

Jul 20, 2021 - Sports

Olympians are getting their voices back

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Colin Kaepernick isn't in the Olympics, but the lasting image of an athlete kneeling on the sidelines in silent protest is likely to find its way to Tokyo all the same.

Why it matters: Such a demonstration would have previously been banned at the Games, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed its rules governing protests in the wake of 2020's global racial reckoning.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Jul 21, 2021 - Sports

Tokyo Olympics kick off with soccer, softball

Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

It's not the start that organizers had once imagined, but the delayed 2020 Olympics are underway with softball and women's soccer beginning competition Wednesday ahead of Friday's opening ceremonies.

Why it matters: Originally scheduled to take place in 2020, the Olympics remain in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Games are being played without spectators and a number of athletes have already had to withdraw from competition after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Updated 21 hours ago - Sports

U.S. women's soccer team seeks redemption on Olympic stage

Megan Rapinoe, 15, of the United States reacts during her team's 3-0 loss on July 21. Photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. women's national soccer team boasts back-to-back World Cup champion status, has ranked first or second in the world every year since 2003 and until Wednesday's opener against Sweden, had not lost a game in 44 matches.

The big picture: But after a disappointing performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the women failed to reach the gold medal game for the first time in history, the team is looking for redemption on the Olympic stage in Tokyo.