UK’s Olympic Gag Row Leads to Review (Updated)

olympichandcuffs.jpgTake politics out of the 2008 Games? It appears not. Yesterday’s revelation that the British Olympic Association has forced its Olympic athletes to sign a contract prohibiting them from making political statements during the Games has led to such outrage that UK authorities now appear to be rethinking things. From the BBC:

For the last 20 years team members have been obliged to sign a contract as a condition of taking part in the Games. But for the first time a clause had been inserted into the Team Members Agreement stating athletes must not comment on politically-sensitive issues during the event in Beijing.

…Chief executive Simon Clegg said the BOA had “no desire to restrict athletes’ freedom of speech”.

Clegg’s comment came after Opposition politicians and human rights organisations had accused the BOA of pandering to the Chinese.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told BBC1’s Politics Show: “We have to be very clear with the Chinese: they now play a significant role in the world economy and international affairs. That brings certain domestic responsibilities with it and I think for us to sort of gag ourselves is a real abdication of our moral responsibility to push for human rights wherever they are being abused.”

Adding his own voice to the cacophony of criticism, Angry Chinese Blogger also points out it is not just the UK that planned to keep its athletes from joining the Beijing 2008 political fray: Belgium and New Zealand have similar clauses in their Olympic contracts.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Beijing’s Olympic organizers seem to like the idea of keeping athletes quiet, according to an AP report. Also, upon being told to keep his mouth shut, a British Olympian immediately made his views about Darfur known. From AFP:

Richard Vaughan, a quarter-finalist in badminton at both the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and currently ranked 30th in the world, said in a statement released Tuesday that it was “very difficult to keep a polite silence about a conflict that continues to cost so many lives.”

His comments came just days after the BOA backed down over its plan to prevent the country’s competitors from commenting on “politically sensitive issues” surrounding the Games in Beijing this summer.

[Image: An political re-working of the 2008 Olypmics logo, from uomolinux]

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