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Minister criticised for supporting free speech ban

14th February 2008

Sports Minister criticised for supporting free speech ban

The Green Party's Sports Spokesperson Keith Locke has criticised Sports Minister Clayton Cosgrove for backing the New Zealand Olympic Committee's ban on athletes making political statements in Beijing.

"Mr Cosgrove's comment, that the ban is there for the athletes' protection, is something you would expect from the Chinese Sports Minister, not a New Zealand one," said Mr Locke.

"The Chinese Government justifies all its repressive measures as being necessary to protect people.

"In its response to the Green Party, the New Zealand Olympic Committee says the aim of the ban is to 'avoid bringing unwarranted attention to athletes', but surely that should be the athlete's choice, not management's.

"For example, if Valerie Villi answers a question about Chinese human rights after she wins the gold medal, she is entitled to do so. We shouldn't muzzle athletes just because their frank comments may draw 'unwarranted attention' from the Chinese regime.

"If the New Zealand Olympic Committee wants to protect athletes it should remove the speech ban clause and add another pledging to support athletes who do speak out and to shield those who don't want to.

"New Zealand is becoming increasingly isolated among Western countries on this matter. This week, after the British Olympic Committee dropped its speech ban, the US and German Olympic Committee reiterated that athletes could say what they liked away from the Olympic venues, consistent with the Olympic Charter. Belgium has now taken a similar stand."


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