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NZ Olympic officials must lift muzzle on athletes

13th February 2008

NZ Olympic officials must lift free-speech muzzle on athletes

Green Party Sports Spokesperson Keith Locke has written to the New Zealand Olympic Committee asking it amend its contract with Olympic team members and guarantee their right to free speech while in China.

"As now written, the contract forbids New Zealand athletes from making any political comment while in Beijing," Mr Locke says.

"This is an affront to free speech which is guaranteed by New Zealand's Bill of Rights and Our Olympic officials are not entitled to take that right away.

"This week, after a storm of protest, the British Olympic Committee chopped out a clause in its contract, that athletes 'are not to comment on politically sensitive issues'.

"Of course, one of the most 'politically sensitive' issues in China is the suppression of dissent.

"Our Olympic officials should not be imitating the Chinese regime by muzzling Kiwi athletes who might be disturbed by some of what they see in China.

"Our Olympic officials wrongly claim their contract with athletes is consistent with the Olympic Charter.

"The Charter only bans political demonstrations at Olympic venues, not in other places in Beijing.

"The International Olympic Committee has committed itself to upholding free speech. Its spokesperson, Giselle Davies, says that 'should a journalist ask an athlete a [political] question, the athlete should respond as he or she sees fit'.

"I am asking our Olympic Committee to take out the offending clause, which currently reads that Olympic athletes 'not make statements or demonstrations (whether verbally, in writing or by any act or omission) regarding political, religious or racial matters.'

"Not to do so would put us at odds with other Western countries, like Britain, America and Australia, that are allowing their athletes freedom of speech.

"China gained the Olympics back in 2001 by promising that their human rights record would be much better by 2008, but this has not happened. If our athletes want to comment on any unjustified restrictions they come across in Beijing then it is not the Committee's role to prevent them from doing so."


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