February 10, 2008
Contracting Around Free Speech
According to the BBC, the British Olympic Association (BOA) has, for the first time, asked athletes to sign a contract pledging to abide by an Olympic rule prohibiting political demonstrations or propaganda. The rule in question is Section 51 of the International Olympic Commmittee Charter.
The existence of Section 51 might come as a surprise, since who would ever think that the Olympics could become a site for political demonstration or expression?!? Oh yeah . . . that.
Apparently, the BOA has not yet determined what remedy will follow if an athlete violates this new contractual provision. According to The Guardian, a BOA spokesman would not say whether an offending athlete would be sent home in the "hypothetical" case of a breach. The BOA also insists that there was no pressure from China to include the new provision, but many other countries, including the United States and Canada, are expressly permitting their athletes to voice any opinions they care to voice. Back in Britain, politicans and human rights organizations are putting pressure on the BOA to remove the offending clause.
The BOA insists there is a simple out for any athlete inclined to talk politics. The BOA now claims that its athletes do not violate the contract if they state their views in response to direct questions. This position seems inconsistent with an earlier statement, reported on CNN Intnerational, that the contract entailed a promise "not to comment on any politically sensitve issues." We'll see if the BOA continues to hope that silence is golden.
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