Outside editorial: Olympic speech

Posted: Sunday, March 02, 2008

The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

R un, high-jump, hurdle or kayak - but whatever you do, don't speak. That's the message some countries are sending to their athletes ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

The Belgian Olympic Committee in January announced that it will not permit its athletes to make political statements, verbally or sartorially, in Olympic venues. The British Olympic Association similarly muzzled its athletes, who will be expelled from the team if they talk about political issues anywhere at all. The New Zealand Olympic Committee has also waffled about exactly how much freedom of expression its athletes will enjoy.

The decisions must please China, which has been condemning human rights groups for "politicizing" the Games. The Belgian, British and New Zealand committees argue that the gag orders are just meant to uphold the Olympic charter, which declares that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted" at the Games.

It would be nice if the Olympics could transcend politics, but that has never happened and never will. The Olympic charter is chock-full of political goals and principles, including feminism, environmentalism and world peace.

These gag orders call into question the West's belief in freedom of speech, a value that democracies should be promoting, not discounting, in China. So far, Olympic committees in Australia, Canada and the United States have said they'll allow their athletes to speak freely. We hope other democracies will follow suit and allow their athletes to express themselves - about China or anything else.

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