A recent amendment to U.S. Soccer Federation regulations requires all players to “stand respectfully” when the national anthem is played at games.
The change came after Megan Rapinoe, currently a U.S. Women’s National Team member, protested inequality in America by kneeling while the song played before at least three matches last year.
The new regulation ― which passed last month but only became publicized on Saturday, according to The Associated Press ― reads: “All persons representing a Federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the Federation is represented.”
Penalties for violating the new rule remain unclear. Federation president Sunil Gulati told Fox Soccer TV that actions would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The USWNT had been unaware of the new regulation and would “assess the implications of any unreasonable restrictions for our members,” according to a statement players sent to Sports Illustrated.com.
The coach for the women’s team, Jill Ellis, told the AP that she was pleased about the policy.
“I’ve always felt that that should be what we do, to honor the country, have the pride of putting on the national team jersey. I think that should be the expectation,” she said.
San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick started the practice of athletes sitting out or taking a kneeduring the anthem last year. He set out to protest racial inequality amid a growing outcry over the increasing number of black people killed by law enforcement.
Several NFL players and other professional athletes followed suit, as did some high school athletes, marching bands and at least one coach.
Rapinoe, who kneeled before three games last year, could not immediately be reached for comment. She said last year that her protests were intended to express solidarity with Kaepernick. Rapinoe, who is gay, said she was also protesting injustices against the LGBTQ community. Kaerpernick has said he plans to stand during the anthem this year.
U.S. Soccer, which has come under stinging criticism for not paying its female and male players equally, issued a statement condemning Rapinoe’s protest after she joined the USWNT and kneeled before a match against Thailand.