Beijing Olympic Games - British Olympic Association told it must not restrict athletes' freedom of speech - European Olympic Committees urged to take a position on this issue at next executive committee meeting



    MONTREAL, Feb. 11 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders and Article 19
today called on British Olympic Association (BOA) chief executive Simon Clegg
to take no measures that could restrict the freedom of expression of British
athletes while taking part in the Beijing Olympic Games.
    A British newspaper yesterday revealed that the BOA wants to gag British
participants but Olympic committees in other countries have said their
athletes will be free to say what they want while outside of the Olympic
venues.
    "This affair is indicative of the lack of courage that characterizes some
officials in the Olympic movement nowadays," Reporters Without Borders and
Article 19 said. "The International Olympic Committee is saying nothing about
the human rights situation in China so why would national Olympic committees
behave any differently?
    "Such behaviour ends up making the Chinese authorities look like victims
with whom one has to choose one words carefully. This is back to front. The
victims are the thousands of political prisoners and the 100 or so
journalists, Internet users and bloggers who are in prison solely for
expressing their views peacefully."
    The two organisations added: "If the athletes want to support them, they
should be able to do so freely. We urge them to do this. The Chinese
government flouts the Olympic Charter every day. Must the athletes respect it
to the letter? This is clearly not right."
    According to yesterday's report in a British newspaper, the draft
agreement between the selected British athletes and their Olympic committee
contains a clause banning them from commenting on any "politically sensitive
issues" during the games. The Olympic Charter only bans political, religious
or racial propaganda at Olympic venues.
    The BOA also plans to organise training for its athletes so that they
know how to respond to the media, especially on the human rights situation in
China. Athletes who speak out or wear clothes that make a political statement
could be excluded from the team. "This clause is intended to stop overt
statements such as wearing a Free Tibet shirt," a BOA spokesman said.
    When questioned by journalists, Clegg said: "I accept that part of the
draft BOA team members' agreement appears to have gone beyond the provisions
of the Olympic Charter. That is not our intention nor is it our wish to
restrict athletes' freedom of speech."
    The Olympic committees of Canada, the United States, the Netherlands and
Belgium have already publicly said they will not restrict their athletes'
freedom of expression. The Australian committee, however, has reportedly asked
its representatives not to comment on political issues in China.
    Reporters Without Borders and Article 19 urge the various national
Olympic committees to jointly undertake to impose no restrictions on their
athletes' freedom of speech when they are in Beijing. There will be an
opportunity for the European Olympic committees to do this when their
executive committee meets on 20 February in Lausanne.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Secretary General, (514)
521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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