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Fears For Freedom Of Speech: Is China Threatening Olympic Athletes?

Fear of freedom of expression
Is China threatening Olympic athletes?

What are athletes allowed to say? When are there penalties? Two weeks before the opening ceremony in Beijing, the debate about the expression of opinion at the Olympic Games is really gaining momentum. The pressure on the International Olympic Committee is increasing. The anger too.

International law experts vehemently advise against protests, athletes’ representatives complain about “open threats” by the Beijing organizers against athletes, and the pressure on the IOC is increasing: Two weeks before the opening of the Winter Olympics in China, there is great uncertainty among athletes and athletes when it comes to freedom of expression athletes. Can they denounce abuses in China without facing reprisals?

“One must now fear that the Chinese government would sanction that,” said Hanno Schedler, officer for genocide prevention and responsibility to protect at the Society for Threatened Peoples. He therefore advises the athletes not to comment critically on human rights violations in the host country. A few days ago, Schedler’s assessments were supported by statements made by the Beijing organizing committee.

China decides what is allowed

On Tuesday, Yang Shu, vice-director-general for international relations of the organizing committee, said: “Any expression in line with the Olympic spirit will certainly be protected. Any behavior or expression that goes against it can be punished with a specific punishment especially if they violate Chinese laws or rules.”

A vague and yet explosive statement, which the Athletes Germany Association interprets as a threatening gesture by the regime. As the athletes’ representatives denounced, the freedom of expression of the athletes “is not guaranteed at the present time”. Furthermore, it is to be feared “that expressions of opinion at the games will be answered with reprisals and disadvantages.” Consequently, the club took the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to task.

“We expect the IOC to clearly distance itself from the statements of the organizing committee,” said Maximilian Klein, Athletes Germany’s representative for international sports policy: “It must show its colors and protect the athletes. The IOC must explain how it will ensure the rights and protection of athletes.” The athletes refer to commitments regarding demonstration and media rights that were made when the 2015 award was made.

Sentence in the rules raises questions

Asked by the sports information service about the statements of the organizing committee, the IOC said that the games would be governed by the IOC rules, which Beijing would “apply as for any other edition of the games before”. In addition, the Order of the Ring referred to “the IOC Rule 50.2”. In that point of the Olympic Charter, the opportunities for active people to express their opinions are regulated. According to the IOC, political statements are not permitted at the opening and closing ceremonies, during the award ceremonies and the competition, or in the Olympic Village.

Meanwhile, Rule 50.2 gives athletes the opportunity to express their opinions, for example during interviews, in the so-called mixed zone or at press conferences and on social media. However, one sentence in the set of rules raises questions in the case of Beijing. “Athletes are expected to speak out with respect for applicable laws, Olympic values ​​and their fellow athletes,” it said. So what happens when an athlete violates Chinese law by expressing an opinion?

The crucial question of what is still allowed to be said will arise again and again during the games. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) meanwhile assured the active members of its support – regardless of whether they express themselves or not. “In both cases we introduce ourselves to the members of the team, as DOSB President Thomas Weikert and Chef de Mission Dirk Schimmelpfennig said repeatedly,” the DOSB said.

The subject remains an important one among Beijing drivers. Biathlete Erik Lesser recently criticized the allocation of the games (February 4th to 20th) to Beijing. “We athletes now have to pay for what the IOC couldn’t do,” he told the Munich newspaper: “We’re standing there now and have to justify ourselves for the Olympic Games in a country where human rights are being violated, so we also have to be more critical give from us – which Thomas Bach as IOC President cannot do.” What consequences this will have remains to be seen.

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