Will Raven Saunders be stripped of her medal? Olympian's podium protest violated Olympic rule
American shot-putter Raven Saunders sent shockwaves among those watching the Games and Olympic committee officials after winning the silver medal on Sunday, August 1. After lodging a very public protest at the podium, Saunders is now in a standoff with the International Olympic Committee who have strict regulations against any kind of political demonstration. But as the investigation continues into Saunder's brazen display of solidarity towards "opressed people," there's been speculation about whether the Olympian will have to return her silver medal.
Saunders's protest comes just days after Olympic leader Simone Biles was subjected to extreme criticism for pulling out of the gymnastic finals on mental health grounds. Saunders's protest definitely highlights the conflicting rules of the International Olympic Committee and Team USA, but it follows the highly talked about protest from Gwen Berry, who turned away from the American flag as the national anthem played during the trials. There has also been a pink-mask protest from the US men's epee fencing team in the wake of sexual assault allegations against Alen Hadzic, who subsequently rebuked them.
Raven Saunders crosses arms in X sign
Although the likes of Biles have come forward to express support for Saunders, she might be at the risk of losing her medal. When Saunders was asked what her demonstration meant, the athlete said it was “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” Her protest was followed by American fencer Race Imboden's, who went to the podium just minutes later, albeit at a different venue, with a circled X written on his hand. Imboden is not a first time demonstrator at big games, having knelt while the national anthem played during the 2019 Pan American Games. But in photos of him taken during Sunday's match where he won the bronze medal, Imboden did not have the circled X on his hand at the time of competition.
While it wasn't entirely clear what the meaning of the mark was, American Olympic officials have reportedly heard about athletes allegedly planning protests in recent days. The IOC shared that The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) will be handling the matter, but Saunders's demonstration is in clear violation of the IOC's prohibition on political demonstrations both on the podium and during competitions. The IOC has reportedly relaxed its rules against protests in other areas the Olympic committee controls, but the repercussions for protesting on the podium are still unclear.
Will Saunders be stripped of her medal?
The USOPC, however, allows athletes exercise their free speech rights, as long as there are no hate messages involved. According to The Telegraph, Saunders could receive anything, from a reprimand to having all her medals taken away, along with being barred from future competitions. With the IOC yet to reveal the penalties for violations, what fate awaits Saunders is unclear too.
The chief spokesman for the IOC, Mark Adams reportedly said the decision lies with the athlete's national Olympic committee according to the internal procedure of matters like these. USOPC spokesperson Jon Mason initially told the media that the organization is currently reviewing the gestures, but ultimately it will be IOC enjoying the lead say on the matter. Mason said that American officials had been informed that the matter will be addressed by the IOC on the next morning, that's Monday, August 2.