British Athletes [Not] Restricted From Criticising China On Human Rights (Updated)

February 10, 2008 in campaigns, china, information, news by Rob Hallam

Update: It seems like the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The BOA has clarified it’s position (BBC coverage this time) saying:

“I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA’s Team Members Agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter, this is not our intention nor is it our desire to restrict athletes’ freedom of speech and the final agreement will reflect this.”

Which is still somewhat unclear – will the clause remain in some form in the final agreement? Hopefully it will be a recommendation or guideline rather than a strict rule of “no criticism”.

From The Daily Mail (only source carrying this at the moment, picked up by a few blogs):

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China’s appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing. The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest. The controversial clause has been inserted into athletes’ contracts for the first time and forbids them from making any political comment about countries staging the Olympic Games.

Should a competitor agree to the clause but then speak their mind about China, they will be put on the next plane home. The clause, in section 4 of the contract, simply states: “[Athletes] are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues.” It then refers competitors to Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter, which “provides for no kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.

However, The BOA (British Olympic Association) denied it was suppressing the right to free speech:

“Clearly what we are not trying to do is suppress comment or debate from our athletes. If an individual is asked a direct question and makes a response that’s fine.”

Amnesty International campaigns director Tim Hancock said:

“People in China can’t speak out about human rights without fear of reprisals; people in Britain can. It’s up to each individual to decide what they think and what they say about China’s human rights record and that goes for athletes too.”

Of course, while this looks like an infraction of the athletes right to free speech as countried like Finland have stated, it should be noted that it’s the Daily Mail that is reporting and it doesn’t look like other news agencies have picked it up (though if anyone has a link that says otherwise, post it in a comment below and I’ll edit the post to reflect that). While the Olympic Games is not meant to be a forum for expressing political or idealogical protests, it is surely within the competitors’ rights to state their views or report any abuse they witness?

Amnesty has other things to say about the Olympics too. You can also keep an eye on other Beijing 2008 news stories over at the China section of Amnesty UK’s website and also at OlympicWatch.