British athletes’ right to freedom of expression must be upheld at the Beijing Olympics, Amnesty International has said.
The human rights organization’s UK chief executive, Sacha Deshmukh, has written to his British Olympic Association counterpart, Andy Anson, urging the BOA to avoid imposing restrictions on athletes.
Amnesty said campaign messages, such as “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts and banners originally banned by the Australian Open tennis tournament organizers must be covered by the BOA.
The letter provided Anson with an update on China’s “intensified” human rights crackdown, citing the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and ongoing concerns about the freedom and well-being of tennis star Peng Shuai. to be.
The International Olympic Committee said Wednesday that its representatives spoke to Peng last week and planned to meet her in Beijing next week, but were criticized for her handling of her situation.
Deshmukh said: “The British Olympic Association should not repeat the disastrous ban on Australian Open T-shirts and should instead support Team UK athletes who want to speak out about human rights in China.
“From the industrial-scale detention and torture of Uyghurs in Xinjiang to the imprisonment of protesters in Hong Kong, these Games are taking place in the shadow of China’s horrific human rights abuses.
“If the British Olympic Association resorts to muzzling athletes, it will be complicit in China’s attempts to whitewash sports and complicit in its massive program of systematic human rights abuses.
“These Games must not become a rights-free zone – freedom of expression and the right to openly debate and discuss human rights must be an integral part of these Games.”
Anson spoke about athletes’ right to speak out earlier this month, before receiving Amnesty’s letter.
He said: “We really want our athletes to respect the athletes they stand with on the podium, (but) we are not going to stifle their freedom of expression.
“We’ve always told the athletes that we’re very happy for them to speak up, but be reasonable and ideally get in touch with us if they feel they’re doing anything controversial. We are not the ones who are going to prevent our athletes from expressing their opinions.
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter imposes restrictions on political protests at Games sites and venues.
The rules have been relaxed slightly ahead of the Tokyo Games to allow athletes to express their views on the playing field before competition, provided it is “not targeted, directly or indirectly, against persons, countries (or) organizations”.
This allowed, for example, the women’s football team to take a knee before matches. However, any protest deemed to be targeting the Chinese government would still be banned from Olympic sites and venues.