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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 14:53 GMT
No 'talking ban' for UK Olympians
Security guard at Olympic venue
Beijing will host the 2008 Olympics
British athletes will not be banned from commenting on political issues at the Beijing Olympics, the British Olympic Association has said.

It clarified its position after it was revealed that a contract which all athletes must sign includes a specific clause about political issues.

BOA chief executive Simon Clegg said it was not the intention to "restrict athletes' freedom of speech".

China's human rights record has been under scrutiny ahead of the event.

Compulsory agreement

Human rights campaigners say Beijing has not fulfilled its promise to improve human rights ahead of the Olympics - a charge the Chinese government flatly denies.

The British athletes' agreement has been around for the last 20 years, and team members are obliged to sign it as a condition of taking part in the Games.

It would be both un-British and un-Olympian to attempt to muzzle the speech and conscience of athletes attending these Games.
Liberty
Human rights group

The 2008 draft of the agreement makes them aware of Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee's charter.

This says that competitors must refrain from any kind of demonstration or engaging in any political, religious or racial propaganda at Olympic sites.

Mr Clegg said: "I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA's Team Members Agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter, this is not our intention nor is it our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech and the final agreement will reflect this."

A spokesman said the BOA could not stop athletes talking to the media, nor questions being asked, particularly as the four-yearly event is aimed at getting "the best possible coverage of the sport".

"Now, if an athlete answers [a] question honestly, there is not going to be an issue for us there. It's much more something where there is an overt decision to make a political point, using the games as a platform and that clearly is very different."

Scrutiny

Athletes who are concerned about anything of a political nature while at the Olympics will be advised to speak to the BOC before speaking publicly.

Olympic medal
Officials emphasised that winning medals was the priority

"With a Games coming under the sort of scrutiny that this one is, it was felt pretty sensible to point out to the athletes - some of whom will not have been to an Olympic Games before - that there is a charter rule in existence," the spokesman said.

The BOA says the athletes' representative body, the British Athletes Commission, has not objected to this particular inclusion.

The BAC does say, however, that athletes need to understand it is the sporting competition that is paramount, and that they will be in Beijing to try to win medals.

Human rights group Liberty expressed concern at any censorship, saying: "It would be both un-British and un-Olympian to attempt to muzzle the speech and conscience of athletes attending these Games.

"The price of hosting such a totemic event is greater political scrutiny. Sport should spread international values, not totalitarian ones."

The International Olympic Committee recently warned athletes not to use the Games as a vehicle to make political or religious statements.



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