The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has faced recent backlash for banning political protest or activism at this year’s Olympics. American Raven Saunders won the silver medal on Saturday’s women’s shot-put final, but her Olympic victory is not the only thing that has people talking. Saunders, who calls herself “The Hulk,” threw 19.79 meters in her “Incredible Hulk” mask, and matching purple and green hair. She embraced her victory with a celebratory twerk which was caught on camera. Most importantly, she displayed a symbol of unity and protest after she was presented with her medal.
Saunders is not only an Olympic silver medalist, but also an outspoken activist. As a Black woman in the LGBTQ+ community, she stands for intersectionality. She’s shared her battles with poverty and mental health after she attempted suicide shortly after the Rio Olympics. She has never shied away from expressing her political and social views to fight for equality for all, and Saturday night, she certainly didn’t hold back.
At the podium, she raised her hands into an “X” formation. She later explained that the gesture represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” While the U.S. The Olympic Committee defended Saunders; the IOC announced that it would be conducting an investigation of Saunders actions as they likely violated IOC guidelines which ban protests at the medal podiums. An IOC spokesperson didn’t disclose the possible consequences, saying, “I don’t want to say what those next steps would be until we fully understand what is going on. We don’t want to pre-empt anything.”
Saunders said on Twitter, “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.” If Saunders did break Olympic protocol, she did it rightfully. It’s wrong to ask athletes to set aside their identities or beliefs for any reason. Saunders always will be a Black LGBTQ+ woman, whether or not she is competing, so no authority should ask her to ignore her values.
The IOC has recently been under fire for its discriminatory practices, including banning swim caps designed for Afro-textured hair. It’s incredibly unfair to ban athletes from speaking up about their societal disadvantages in an institution that reinforces them.
If anything, athletes should be welcomed, or even encouraged, to use their platform on an international stage to stand up for what they believe in. Saunders took advantage of her visibility in the moment and brought political conversations to light and the IOC should respect that.