Human rights protests rattle Olympics
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With Steven Spielberg's announcement that he will not organise the opening ceremonies, the Olympic Games in Beijing may have already lost a battle. A growing chorus of athletes are starting to speak out.
Yet François Gourmet is not overly concerned about the possible repercussions. “I haven’t received any negative feedback so far,” he said. “It seems quite normal to me that I may say what I think”. He is expecting to qualify soon for the Games.
The unease is clearly apparent among the various national Olympic committees around the world. The British committee recently attempted to silence athletes tempted by activism, before making an embarrassing retreat in the face of public outrage. Earlier in February, it had asked all athletes to sign a document pledging “not to comment on any politically sensitive topic”.
“We never intended to limit athletes’ freedom of speech,” said the committee’s spokesperson Myriam Wilkins. “Our intention was to recall the rules of the Olympic Chart to our athletes, some of whom will be taking part in the Games for the very first time”. Indeed the Chart states that “no kind of political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda is authorized on any Olympic site”. Athletes are therefore allowed to express their thoughts, but off the track.
Several committees, including the Swedish, Canadian, Czech and Italian, opted for a very different approach. Their Belgian counterpart issued a press release stating that “all participants in the Games have and will have throughout the Games the right to express themselves freely, in their capacity, on any matter they consider of importance”. Yet the Norwegian committee went even further by organizing seminars to inform its athletes about human rights and the political situation in
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