British Olympic Association climbs down on censorship claim

There had been worries recently that the contract British athletes being included in the national team for the Bejing Olympics had been reworded to censor what those athletes may say publicly about the dire state of human rights or politics in the host nation China. The BOA has now apparently clarified this position saying that while it is normal Olympic practise to inform competing athletes that they cannot use the Games as a political platform neither is the BOA in the business of trying to censor what its athletes speak about – they can talk to journalists, answer questions and so on, just not decide to use their position at the Games to stage a protest or demonstration, something which comes from the International Olympic rules. The British Athletes Commission seems to accept this adding that it is the sport which is paramount and that they are going to compete, not to demonstrate.

Which is fair enough, as far as it goes, since that is indeed what they are supposed to do. But I can’t help but wonder if the Games weren’t being held in a nation with an appalling record in human rights abuses, lack of civil liberties, environmental pillaging and few freedoms then this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Part of the argument for having the Games there though is that somehow it will magically make the Chinese government more accountable, allowing more freedoms and liberties – the same argument is used by giant corporations like Google and Microsoft for working with the Chinese government, then self-censoring to suit that totalitarian regime and even, allegedly, giving access to web records to track down and silence those bloggers who post opinions considered ‘dissident’. Yay for the spread of freedom by example!!!

Its an old refrain of capitalism that it promotes freedom because those are the circumstances it flourishes best in and where political argument fails to persuade those in power money and successful business might. But that’s an experiment we’re still waiting to see a definitive result on – there may be some more freedoms in China today but equally there are a lot of repressive measures, so the jury is well out on how successfully the market and giving them the Games has worked – it may have helped a bit, but it certainly hasn’t transformed the country to a land of freedom. On the Olympians front though, if an athlete does feel very strongly that an international coming together of nations shouldn’t be staged in a country where the regime denies basic freedoms, liberties and human rights then perhaps they should consider if they should take part in the Games being held there?

Because I doubt the Games will magically make things better – we’re talking about a regime, after all, who when visiting London criticised their UK government hosts for ‘allowing’ people to protest their visit, that’s the attitude they have – they think democratic countries should muzzle free speech critical of them. So I am left wondering if athletics organisations saying that the staging of the Games in China will somehow help improve that country’s lamentable record is less wishful thinking than a fig leaf to their own conscience to justify going there – honest I am not just going because I want to take part in the Olympics regardless, I really believe being there will help the people of China. Honest. Okay, perhaps that is pretty cynical, but I find it is hard not to be cynical about the whole thing. (source: the BBC)