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Fresh anthem scandal hits US sports as women's soccer team denies disrespecting WWII veteran by turning away from him (VIDEO)

Fresh anthem scandal hits US sports as women's soccer team denies disrespecting WWII veteran by turning away from him (VIDEO)
The United States women's soccer team has denied that it 'disrespected' a 98-year-old World War II veteran after some players turned away from him during the national anthem ahead of a match on Monday.

A video showed several members of the team turn away from Pete DuPre, who was playing the national anthem on a harmonica, facing away from him as he performed the anthem in advance of an Olympics send-off game against Mexico – while several other members of the team, along with the Mexican squad, remained facing forward.

National anthem protests have provided very fertile ground for activists throughout much of the last few years, with Colin Kaepernick's decision to 'take a knee' during the anthem ahead of NFL games several years ago being a particularly divisive issue in the US public discourse and later bleeding into several other sports across the globe throughout the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

READ MORE: ‘Don’t send her to the Olympics’: Fury after US hammer thrower turns back on flag as anthem plays during medal ceremony

Predictably, the scenes with the US women's national team attracted heavy criticism online – with news site The Post Millennial writing: "Disgraceful behavior from some members of the US womens' soccer team as they turn their backs while 98-year-old World War II veteran Pete DuPré played the National Anthem on his harmonica."

However, scrambling to the team's defense, it was pointed out by the US Soccer Federation that they players in question weren't attempting to make a social statement by turning away from DuPre's rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, but that they had instead turned to face a large United States flag which was being displayed pitchside.

"Some of the players were simply looking at the flag flowing on a pole in the stadium in that direction. They were not looking away from Pete as he played the national anthem," US Soccer Federation chief communications officer Neil Buethe said.

For some, though, the damage was done. A stream of vitriol was evident on social media, with much of it targeting the so-called 'disrespectful' players and prompted United States Soccer to directly address the claims on social media.

"Not true," they wrote. "No one turned their back on WWII Veteran Pete DuPré during tonight's anthem. Some USWNT players were simply looking at the flag on a pole in one end of the stadium. The players all love Pete, thanked him individually after the game and signed a ball for him."

This analysis was endorsed by several others on social media who insisted that the players had no intention of disrespecting a war veteran, or indeed the flag or the anthem – but some others weren't quite so convinced.

"This is so petty and small on behalf of the team," wrote one. "A 98-year old veteran. But I'm sure because he's a Patriot, he must be cancelled. These players should renounce their citizenship and go play for some other nation. We have Patriots that'd be willing to represent this nation."

"I don't know what was going through the players heads but it didn't look like they were protesting to me. The players that turned were looking at the flag. It was odd that some looked at flag and others didn't. As players have protested before they're not getting any favors," said another.

"I call Bologna Salami here," said another of US Soccer's explanation. "Lots of pictures and actions to show otherwise. Don't represent a country if you don't respect it."

The US team won Monday's game in Connecticut 4-0, thanks to first-half goals from Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Tobin Heath, and an own goal from Reyna Reyes. 

The US women's team are now unbeaten in 44 matches as they head to Tokyo for the Olympics later this month.  

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