Why did Raven Saunders protest at Tokyo Olympics? Athlete raised arms in 'X' at medal ceremony

The Rule 50 of Olympic Charter bans protest gestures like making political hand symbols or showing disrespect during medal ceremonies

                            Why did Raven Saunders protest at Tokyo Olympics? Athlete raised arms in 'X' at medal ceremony
Raven Saunders of Team United States makes an 'X' gesture during the medal ceremony for the Women's Shot Put at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

US shot putter Raven Saunders, who fetched the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, August 1, made an unusual gesture during the medal ceremony. The 25-year-old athlete raised her arms in an 'X' formation over her head, while posing for photographers along with her co-medalists. Saunders' gesture was interpreted as a form of protest — which goes against the strict Olympic policy of ban on medal ceremony protests.

The native of Charleston, South Carolina, is a three-time champion in track-and-field from the University of Mississippi. She has always been vocal about sensitive issues, including her own battle with depression. Saunders, who is openly gay, proclaims herself as the 'HULK' of track-and-field. Upon winning the silver on Sunday, she tweeted a photo of herself celebrating, with the caption "When you defeat all the other masc lesbians. This is the final boss!!!" Prior to this, the US men's epee fencing team protested against the inclusion of sexual assault-accused Alen Hadzic in their team by wearing pink masks. 


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Why did Raven Saunders protest?

According to Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, all kinds of political, racial, or religious demonstrations are prohibited at any Olympic venue. The policy, which came into effect on January 9 this year, was enacted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amid much criticism. The rule bans protest gestures like taking a knee, making political hand symbols or showing disrespect during medal ceremonies.

Saunders (L) during the medal ceremony (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

"We believe that the example we set by competing with the world's best while living in harmony in the Olympic Village is a uniquely positive message to send to an increasingly divided world. This is why it is important, on both a personal and a global level, that we keep the venues, the Olympic Village and the podium neutral and free from any form of political, religious or ethnic demonstrations," stated the IOC.

The rule was especially criticized by US athletes — many of whom chose to kneel during the national anthem at other international sports events, in protest of George Floyd's death. 

During the shot put final event, Saunders already turned heads as she donned a Hulk mask and clocked a distance of 19.79 meters, just behind Chinese gold-medalist Gong Lijiao's 20.58 meters. Saunders first came into the limelight after she sported a 'Joker' face mask during the qualifying rounds of the competition.

After Saunders demonstrated her symbolic protest at the Olympic podium, she explained to the Associated Press that the 'X' was a nod to "the intersection where all people who are oppressed meet”. "I really think that my generation really don’t care. We understand that there’s so many people that are looking up to us, that are looking to see if we say something or if we speak up for them," she elaborated, adding that her mission was to be herself and "to not apologize". "To show younger people that no matter how many boxes they try to fit you in, you can be you and you can accept it,” she continued, "People tried to tell me not to do tattoos and piercings and all that. But look at me now, and I’m poppin’,” hinting at her signature purple and green-dyed hair. 

It is not clear yet what penalties the champion can face for violating the strict Olympic policy.