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IOC: Athletes Will Have Freedom Of Speech “Within Limits”

by @ 7:06 am on April 11, 2008. Filed under 2008 Summer Olympics, China, Foreign Affairs

In the course of the same news conference, the head of the International Olympic Committee managed to say two completely contradictory things about the ability that international athletes will have to speak out during the Olympic Games in Bejing.

First, he says that the IOC stands behind the free speech rights of it’s athletes:

BEIJING, April 10 — Calling freedom of expression an absolute human right, the president of the International Olympic Committee said that athletes at the Summer Games in Beijing would be allowed to speak without restriction at some Olympic sites and that he had insisted that Chinese officials begin fully enforcing a new media law that promises journalists full access in China.

China, meanwhile, canceled plans to reopen the Tibet Autonomous Region to foreigners May 1, after its closure over anti-Chinese protests. It also said that arrests in January and March had uncovered a plot by radical Islamists to kidnap foreigners, including journalists, to bomb hotels and government buildings, and to poison food in Beijing and Shanghai.

The announcements come amid a wave of international protests against China’s crackdown against Tibetans. The uproar is undermining the government’s plans to use the Olympics to showcase friendly relations with foreign countries as well as with domestic ethnic groups in China.

A new Chinese law in theory allows journalists to travel freely throughout the country this year and to interview any willing subject without advance permission, apart from special permits needed for travel to Tibet. But the law has not been enforced. Foreign journalists continue to be detained while covering sensitive stories and in most cases cannot get permission to visit Tibet.

“For us, freedom of expression is something that is absolute. It’s a human right,” IOC President Jacques Rogge told reporters at a Beijing news conference, where he faced repeated questions about human rights, politics and disruptions this week in Europe and San Francisco of the traditional Olympic torch relay.

But apparently, that human right isn’t so absolute after all:

Athletes who display Tibetan flags at Olympic venues — including in their own rooms — could be expelled from this summer’s Games in Beijing under anti-propaganda rules.

Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said that competitors were free to express their political views but faced sanctions if they indulged in propaganda.


The fact that the IOC has still not qualified the exact interpretation of “propaganda” means that some athletes remain confused about what they can say during the 16-day event without being sent home or stripped of a medal.

Unfurling Free Tibet banners or wearing Save Darfur T-shirts at Olympic venues are acts likely to be regarded as a breach of the charter, which was introduced after the American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. But there are still many grey areas and concerns among human rights campaigners that athletes’ right to free speech will be curtailed to avoid embarrassing their Chinese hosts.

At the Sydney Games in 2000 Olympic chiefs allowed Cathy Freeman to use the Aboriginal flag to highlight the plight of the Stolen Generation after she won a gold medal in the 400 metres

In other words, the IOC will capitulate to it’s ChiCom hosts in making sure that no “unapproved” statements are made.

This is looking more and more like a propaganda victory for the Chinese that they didn’t have to be given.

One Response to “IOC: Athletes Will Have Freedom Of Speech “Within Limits””

  1. [...] Apparently, this is an example of what the IOC means when it talks about free speech “within limits.” [...]

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