Free Tibet Campaign statement on attempts to restrict the free speech of British athletes

Monday, 11 February 2008

Yesterday press stories ran globally about the British Olympic Association's decision to force athletes to sign an agreement that they would not speak out about human rights abuses in Tibet and China during the Beijing Games.

Yes, it is a disgrace that British athletes were warned to keep silent when their counterparts from the United States, Canada and many other countries have been told they are free to speak.

It is not, however, a surprise that a gagging order has been suggested. It is, after all, the price of doing business with China, one of the world's most repressive regimes. Like some concussed Basil Fawlty, businessmen must always remember: Don't mention Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen Square.

Whilst the British government is prepared to speak out about the crushing of dissent in Burma, no similar criticism is made of China's brutal occupation of Tibet - or the measures the Chinese government is taking to quash any form of dissent in China in the run up to the Olympic Games.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the Chinese government disingenuously say that the Games should not be politicised. The IOC itself politicised the 2008 Olympics when they were awarded to Beijing with the promise that staging the Games would bring about great improvements in human rights.

When asked by an ITV reporter in January if the human rights situation in Tibet was better or worse in the run up to the Olympics, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, without hesitation, 'Most certainly worse.'

Should athletes be allowed to have an opinion about this? Today the British Olympic Association allows that athletes are indeed entitled to have an opinion and, if asked a direct question, are permitted to answer honestly.

However, 'overt' protests, such as wearing a Free Tibet campaign t-shirt, will not be tolerated.

What if an athlete wants to board his or her flight wearing a Free Tibet t-shirt, knowing he or she will have to remove the garment before disembarking in Beijing? Or what if the athlete has already competed and wants to wear a Free Tibet t-shirt on the flight home? What happens then?

Free Tibet campaign is offering t-shirts to any British - or other nationality - athlete who wants to find out the answer to these questions. Just let us know your size.