Olympic gag gets no laughs

There has been a lot of concern about free speech during the Beijing Olympics. Would foreign journalists enjoy the full reporting freedoms they were promised? Doubtful. And domestic journalists?  Unlikely.  Would protests by Chinese dissidents be allowed to go ahead? Fat chance. But the idea that the British Olympics Association would gag its own athletes has caused outrage this weekend after the Mail on Sunday splashed on the story, following a tip-off from the press office of a well-known human rights organisation.

Politicians were quick to condemn the decision, with David Mellor working himself up into a righteous fury on the pages of the MoS and Tory and Lib Dems swiftly following suit. The blogosphere has of course pounced on it too Ive linked to a few examples here, here and here.

And then the BOA capitulated and stated that it would review the contracts that it was asking athletes to sign, conceding that the existing contract went too far and that contracts would be changed to ensure that athletes rights to free speech werent curtailed. To some extent one of our quickest campaigning successes! Though I suspect well need to keep an eye on the BOA to ensure that they do what theyve promised.

Amnesty members are now writing to the BOA, urging the organisation to use its influence with the International Olympic Committee and get them to put more pressure on China to improve human rights in the run-up to the Beijing Games. China made promises to the IOC that it hasnt kept. Were still demanding urgent reforms in four key areas: free speech, persecution of human rights activists, fair trials and the death penalty.

As for the athletes themselves, I imagine that theyll make up their own minds. Some wont want to get involved with this issue, in which case fair play to them, leave them to it. But for those who do take a look at Chinas human rights record and decide that they have to say something, who on earth are the BOA to stop them?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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