Feb 26, 2008

Speech ban on Olympic athletes concerns British and others

by Caleb McAllister

The British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed on Feb. 9 that it inserted a clause into the contracts of its Olympic athletes requiring them to agree not to make any critical comments about the regime governing China, the host country of the 2008 Olympics.
This development unleashed a storm of criticism for the BOA in Great Britain and worldwide.  Originally, the clause in the contract stated, “(Athletes) are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues.”
Within hours, the association had agreed to reevaluate the wording of the clause. 
Simon Clegg, the British Olympic Association’s chief executive, claims that the clause included in the athletes’ contract this year is nothing more than a restatement of the International Olympic Committee’s policy against any “kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda” during the Olympics, according to Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee’s charter. 
However, Jeremy Hunt, Great Britain’s shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, told Sky News, “They, I think, have rather over-interpreted (the IOC charter) by making all our athletes sign this declaration.  I think that given America, Canada (and) Australia are explicitly saying that their athletes can say what they want when they go to Beijing — I think it is inappropriate to put this restriction on our athletes.”
At any rate, the situation is a disturbing reminder of a past episode of Britain’s history with Adolf Hitler.  On May 14, 1938, the English football team (soccer team, in U.S. lingo) gave a Nazi salute before they played in the Berlin Olympics – a shameful display of subservience that still embarrasses many Brits.
David Mellor wrote in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail, “In 1936, persecution of the Jews was stopped briefly, dissidents were rounded up and kept out of the way and Nazi Germany put on its best face for the Games.  And that is exactly what the Chinese are doing today. They are desperately trying to clean up Beijing and banishing dissidents — such as 34-year-old Hi Jia, a brave campaigner for human rights who is under house arrest to ensure he doesn’t rock the boat.” 
Apparently not all British citizens see history and current events quite as clearly as Mr. Mellor.  Hopefully, enough British citizens will have their stomachs sickened by the restrictions enacted by the BOA  to voice their outrage. Otherwise, Olympians may find themselves looking back on the 2008 Olympics with the same distaste that British athletes look back at the games of 1936.

Contact Caleb McAllister at cjmcallister@liberty.edu.

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