Officials at the British Olympic Association performed a swift reappraisal yesterday after reports that their most recent instructions for prospective competitors at this summer's Beijing Games represented a suppression of their right to free speech.
Simon Clegg, the BOA chief executive, admitted yesterday that the new clause added to the 32-page Athletes Agreement, which maintains that competitors "are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues", would be re-drafted before being sent out.
"I accept that part of the draft BOA team members' agreement appears to have gone beyond the provisions of the Olympic Charter," Clegg said. "That is not our intention nor is it our wish to restrict athletes' freedom of speech."
Team agreements for British Olympic competitors have existed for 20 years, dealing largely with issues such as appropriate dress and behaviour. The BOA's intention, said its spokesman, was to remind athletes of the existence of the International Olympic Committee's Charter Rule 51, which states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted at Olympic sites, venues or other areas".
The spokesman added: "It was certainly implied in the old agreement, but with the level of political interest in this particular Games we felt it was right for our younger athletes who had not been to an Olympics before to realise that there was this Charter Rule in place. "What we are not trying to do is stop any athlete talking to the media. If someone is asked a question and they respond, that is not what we are talking about. But if someone uses the Games to express or deliver their political views, then that would be different."
The type of gesture to which the BOA is referring would presumably be of the kind made by Olympic 200 metre medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Games, where they each wore a black glove on the podium to signify Black Power and to highlight calls for civil rights in the United States.
Amnesty International campaigns director, Tim Hancock, said: "People in China can't speak out about human rights without fear of reprisals; people in Britain can. It's up to each individual to decide what they say about China's human rights record."Reuse content