epa09356572 New Zealand players kneel before the women's soccer group stage match between Australia and New Zealand at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, 21 July 2021. EPA/KIMIMASA MAYAMA

Claim Australian soccer players ‘refused’ to kneel is an own goal

AAP FactCheck July 23, 2021

The Statement

Social media posts suggests the Australian women’s soccer team, the Matildas, “refused” to join their New Zealand rivals in kneeling before their opening Olympic match.

A Facebook post shared by an Australian user on July 22 features an image of the New Zealand players kneeling on the pitch while the Matildas stand in the background with their arms linked.

The post’s caption reads, “The Australian Women’s Soccer Team refused to kneel.”

At the time of writing, the Facebook post had been shared more than 470 times and attracted more than 45,000 views. Other users later shared similar posts on Facebook (see here and here) and Instagram.

A Facebook post
┬áA post claims the Australian women’s soccer side refused to kneel before their match against NZ.┬á

The Analysis

While the Australian women’s soccer team did not kneel as an anti-racism gesture, they chose to support the same cause in a different way before the match.

Instead, the Matildas elected to take a team photo holding the Aboriginal flag to show their support and in solidarity with Indigenous Australians.

The Matildas began their 2021 Tokyo Olympics campaign with a 2-1 victory over their trans-Tasman rivals. Before kickoff, the New Zealand side elected to kneel to advocate for racial justice, a move several other teams have also undertaken at the Olympics.

When asked about the Matildas’ decision to take a team photo holding the Aboriginal flag, Australian captain Sam Kerr said it was a gesture agreed on by the whole team (video mark 40sec).

“We let the Indigenous girls drive it. We felt that we didn’t want to just do something to go with the grain; we wanted to do something that was relevant to our country and show unity within our group and let everyone feel that they’re represented. We feel really proud of it,” she said.

When contacted about the claim the Matildas had “refused” to kneel like NZ, a Football Australia spokeswoman referred AAP FactCheck to comments from both Kerr and midfielder Tameka Yallop at the post-match press conference.

Yallop said the team was “obviously in support of no racism”, adding: “We definitely wanted to take a stand and show our support of that, and we also wanted to represent not just Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams within our team, but the broader Indigenous Australians, and give our own Australian flair to shed light on that aspect of it as well.”

The gesture of kneeling as a protest against racism rose to prominence in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the American national anthem to highlight what he described as the ongoing oppression of black people in the US.

In Australia, the same gesture has been used to highlight Indigenous deaths in custody, among other racial issues.

NZ players kneel before the women's soccer match against Australia.
┬áNZ players kneel before the women’s soccer match against Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.┬á

The Verdict

The posts misleadingly claims that the Australian women’s soccer team “refused” to kneel before their opening match against New Zealand at the Olympics.

While the team did not perform the gesture, players unfurled an Aboriginal flag during a team photo. Team members said they supported the anti-racism campaign but chose to show their backing in a way that was relevant to Australia.

Missing Context – Content that may mislead without additional context.

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