U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Loses Olympic Opener After Kneeling At Start of Match

by Jennifer Shea

Before their game against Sweden on Wednesday, the U.S. women’s national soccer team decided to take a knee.

The gesture was a nod to the protests that broke out in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody last year. And it marked the first such effort after a rule change around protests at the Olympic Games.

Rule 50 had banned many forms of protest at Olympic events. In fact, last January, the International Olympic Committee specifically prohibited kneeling and fist-raising at Olympic venues before, during or after a competition.

The IOC embarked on an extensive review of the rule following pressure from athletes. At first, it decided to keep the restrictions. But then, according to Yahoo Sports, it tried to compromise with athletes who vowed to protest anyway. Finally, it said earlier this month that it would allow protests before competitions.

U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Loses Game

At the referee’s whistle, all the starters fell to one knee and remained there for about 10 seconds. Then they stood up for the pregame countdown to kickoff.

Once the game began, Sweden scored one goal in the first half and two goals in the second, shutting out the U.S. women’s team completely. As Sports Illustrated put it, the Swedes outplayed the Americans, pure and simple.

The loss ended America’s winning streak at 44. It was the first loss for the U.S. team since January of 2019, when France beat them 3-1 in Le Havre.

Nonetheless, that summer, the team won the World Cup in spite of their loss to the French. It was a precedent that many on the team find comforting now, in the wake of their more recent loss.

Team Braces Itself for Next Game

With that in mind, U.S. defender Tierna Davidson told the Associated Press that teammate Kelley O’Hara had begun urging everyone on the U.S. women’s national team to regroup and steel themselves for Saturday’s game against New Zealand.

“She was like: ‘We don’t have a choice. We have to come out the next game and we have to be absolutely ruthless,’” Davidson told the AP. “So I think that’s what everyone has on their mind right now.”

And forward Christen Press noted that the U.S. women’s team had similarly lost their first match in 2008 before going on to win the gold.

“We’ve had a long string of wins and I think we haven’t had a lot of games where we had to come back,” Press said. “So I think now we’re seeing this as a learning opportunity. And the message is already ‘Heads up, put it behind us, next game.’ There’s no time in a tournament like this to dwell.”

The U.S. team hopes to become the first women soccer players to win an Olympic title after a World Cup win. It would be their fifth gold medal overall.