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Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek July 26, 2021

It’s not true that the women’s U.S. soccer team kneeled during the national anthem at the Olympics

If Your Time is short

• The photo showing some members of the U.S. women’s soccer team kneeling during the  national anthem was taken in February 2021 at the SheBelieves Cup, not at the Tokyo Olympics.

• Members of the U.S. women’s national team took a knee on July 21 ahead of their first Olympic match, as did teams from Great Britain, Chile, Sweden and New Zealand. At the time, the national anthem was not playing. 

• Team members stood during the national anthem on July 21.

A photo and caption circulating on Facebook would have social media users believe that several members of the U.S. women’s soccer team kneeled during the American national anthem before their defeat in the delayed 2020 Olympic opener. 

A Facebook user on July 21 shared a photo that shows eight of 11 members of the team kneeling. In the photo, the other three team members are shown standing with their left hand behind their back and their right over their heart, which suggests the national anthem is playing.

The caption accompanying the photo reads, "Our U.S. Women's Soccer Team LOST to Sweden."

Similar posts popped up on Twitter, with one tweet sharing the same photo alongside the caption: "They just lost 3-0 to Sweden. That’s what you get for kneeling to George Floyd." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The captions paired with the photo suggest that the image depicts a scene from the Tokyo Olympics, but that is not the case. A Google Image search shows this image is from the 2021 SheBelieves Cup, which was held Feb. 18-24 in Orlando, Fla.

Other fact-checking outlets have also debunked the claim that this photo was taken at the Tokyo Olympics — and disproven as false the claim that any teams took a knee during their country’s national anthem. They didn’t.

In its 2020 Olympic debut on July 21, the U.S. women’s national team lost 3-0 to Sweden. The loss ended a 44-game winning streak for the U.S. team, which had been knocked out of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics by Sweden and had hoped to have a better showing against its rival in 2020.

The U.S. team — along with four other Olympic teams, including Sweden — participated in a protest against discrimination and racial inequality by taking a knee before its first match. 

The Associated Press reported that the soccer players who dropped to their knees ahead of their matches on July 21 "were the first athletes to use the Olympic platform for a display of activism" since the International Olympic Committee changed the rules to allow protests within limited parameters.

Featured Fact-check

The IOC’s rules state that athletes "have the opportunity to express their views" during the games "on the field of play prior to the start of the competition (i.e. after leaving the ‘call room’ (or similar area) or during the introduction of the individual athlete or team)." The IOC also specified that the protests must not directly target countries or individuals and cannot be "disruptive." 

The guidelines still prohibit acts of protest during competition on the field of play, during official ceremonies including victory ceremonies and in the Olympic Village. 

Neither the U.S. women’s national team nor the other four teams that protested racism by kneeling before their matches appear to have been in violation of the new Olympic rules. 

Members of the teams kneeled when the referee’s whistle blew, as pregame music continued to play. When the U.S. and Swedish women’s teams took a knee, NPR reported that "a referee joined the players at midfield in dropping to the turf on one knee" as did an assistant referee. 

Yahoo! Sports explicitly said, "All 18 USWNT players stood for the anthem on Wednesday. It's unclear if a protest during the anthem would be acceptable under the new IOC rules." 

One photo on Getty Images also depicts members of the U.S. women’s soccer team standing during the U.S. national anthem on July 21. 

Our ruling

Posts on social media suggest that a photograph shows some members of the U.S. women’s soccer team kneeling during the national anthem at the Tokyo Olympics. 

In reality, the photo was taken in February 2021 at the SheBelieves Cup in Florida — not at the 2020 Olympics. 

Members of the U.S. women’s national team took a knee on July 21 ahead of their first Olympic match in Japan. They were standing during the U.S. national anthem. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, July 21, 2021

Tweet, July 21, 2021

Getty Images, "2021 SheBelieves Cup - United States v Canada," Feb. 18, 2021

Getty Images, "Sweden v United States: Women's Football - Olympics: Day -2," July 21, 2021

www.olympics.com, "Football - Sweden vs United States - Group G Results," accessed July 25, 2021

Washington Post, "U.S. women’s national team trounced by Sweden, 3-0, in Olympic stunner," July 21, 2021

USA Today, "Sweden dominates USWNT in a 3-0 victory in their opener at Tokyo Olympics," July 21, 2021

NBC News, "U.S. women's soccer team falls to Sweden in Olympic opener," July 21, 2021

USsoccer.com, "SheBelieves Cup, Presented by VISA," accessed July 25, 2021

USA Today, "​​Fact check: Photo misleads about US women's national team's Olympic demonstration in Tokyo," July 22, 2021

Snopes.com, "Did US Women’s Soccer Kneel During National Anthem at 2020 Olympic Opener?" July 21, 2021

CNN, "Women's soccer teams take a knee ahead of opening Olympic Games matches," July 21, 2021

Associated Press, "Soccer players kneel to start new era of Olympic activism," July 21, 2021

NPR, "Olympians Take A Knee Against Racism, Under New Policy Allowing Protests," July 21, 2021

Associated Press, "IOC gives athletes more scope for protest at Tokyo Olympics," July 2, 2021

NPR, "The Tokyo Olympics Has Relaxed Its Rules On Athlete Protests — To A Point," July 23, 2021

International Olympic Committee, "​​IOC extends opportunities for athlete expression during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020," July 2, 2021

Yahoo Sports, "USWNT, other soccer teams kneel before Olympic openers to protest racism," July 21, 2021

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It’s not true that the women’s U.S. soccer team kneeled during the national anthem at the Olympics

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