Beijing Olympics becoming politicized, UK Olympic Association backs down after stand-off with athletes

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Section 51 of Olympic Charter likely to be a key issue of interpretation

Feb. 13 – In the second potentially embarrassing event to hit the Olympics this week it has emerged that the British Olympic Association has had to back down from proposed clauses it had wanted to insert into athletes contracts to prevent them speaking out on politically sensitive issues before, during and after the Beijing Games.

The clause, the first change to British athletes Olympic contracts for 20 years, was to be based on the Olympic charter’s own Section 51 which bans athletes from making political, racial and religious protests and propaganda, and has created uproar within the UK national press.

The BOA have consequently had to withdraw the clause in question, however Chief Executive Simon Clegg stated “The interpretation of one part of the draft of the BOA Team Members Agreement has gone far beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter. This is not our intention nor is it our desire to restrict the freedom of speech amongst our athletes, and our final, revised draft will reflect this.”

The Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee repeated the line that all athletes were expected to follow the Olympic charter, supported by the IOC who also stated the Charter applied to all Games and all athletes were expected to follow section 51, with spokesperson Emmanuelle Moreau commenting: “We do ask all competitors take notice of Section 51. But what an athlete says outside of the Olympics and its venues is up to them as freedom of expression. Such differences are common sense.”

Such controversies are likely to become more commonplace. Regrettably, these Olympics have thrown up two adversaries, the ill-informed “China commentator” who may have a political agenda to follow, knows he or she has a wide audience, and seeks to exploit this. Beijing also, is not used to permitting complete freedom of speech, although in our view it is trying to keep up to standards and access as requested by the IOC it is this perceived gap of what may or may not be said, with maneuvering on both sides to try and maximize and minimize the words of either party that remains an issue. Essentially, the Olympics are a Global Games, and it will be the local people of Beijing themselves as hosts who will demonstrate much about what is good about the Olympics, away from the petty griping, sniping and ill-judged insistence of “extra clauses” on adult athletes contracts that appear to be raising its head. “Common sense” as the IOC mentioned, should be the way forward, rather than attempts by national organizations to treat its athletes as potential liabilities.

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