Olympian Raven Saunders’ protest ‘X’ gesture was not a violation, officials say

Officials said the gesture by the proud member of the LGBTQ community did not violate any rule about protests.

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Olympic shot putter Raven Saunders is facing criticism as the first Black American to show a sign of protest during a medal ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics, a gesture that officials said did not violate any rule. 

The South Carolina native, a proud member of the LGBTQ community, raised her arms on the podium on Sunday in the sign of an X after winning the silver medal in her event. 

Raven Saunders of Team United States makes an “X” gesture during the medal ceremony for the Women’s Shot Put on Day Nine of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium Sunday in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Saunders later told reporters that the sign is “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”

A popular athlete on social media, Saunders is known for her twerk moves, but she has had a difficult road to the medal platform. According to Associated Press, she has considered suicide as she’s seen depression take a personal toll and, as a Black queer woman, chose to make a statement. 

“RAVEN SAUNDERS! @GiveMe1Shot🥈OLYMPIC SHOT PUT SILVER MEDALIST! AHHHH!!! CONGRATULATIONSSSSSSSSSS!!!! And then the imaginary hair flip & twerk at the end was *chef’s kiss* hahaha!,” Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison-Claye wrote in support. 

Saunders’ twerk move at the Olympics was immediately cut by cameras, but not fast enough for Twitter. 

The phrase “Raven Saunders Twerk” is still trending today. 

“Watching Raven Saunders twerk on national television as she grabs that silver medal has given me life!” one user wrote. 

While her twerk move was light-hearted and fun, Saunders’ stance is also trending as the first American to push back against the International Olympic Committee’s restrictive rules for protests, as the Tokyo Olympics takes place in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The IOC provided guidance that says that protests should occur “prior to the start of the competition” and not on the podium at medal ceremonies. 

“The International Olympic Committee wants to punish US shot putter Raven Saunders for this modest protest ‘for oppressed people’ just after the Tokyo medal ceremony,” says Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth. “The US Olympic Committee is rightfully refusing to restrict her right to free expression.” 

According to new reports, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee says Saunders’ gesture during her medals ceremony “was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration.”

While word if she’d be punished for her brief protest gesture kept fans and foes abuzz earlier Monday, Saunders maintained support on social media before officials made clear she wouldn’t faced repercussions. 

“Raven Saunders,” one user wrote. “What the Olympian’s X protest means to her. Discriminated and oppressed groups have more in common than difference, and so many people are a member of multiple groups yet feel alone. Love this message by Raven Saunders. Absolute legend.”

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