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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Olympic Ambush Watch: Athletes, Tattoos, T-Shirts and Amnesty International

June 16, 2008

The Huffington Post
June 11, 2008

We're getting down to the fine points of controlling imagery at the
Olympics. The International Olympics Committee, the Beijing
Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) and all
federations and players are setting the stage for tough controls
across the imagery-related board -- dealing with advertising ambush,
potential symbolic protest meddling with the message of the Olympics,
and the dangers of languid control of media rights.

The New York Times carped at the issuance of rules concerning fans
attending the 2008 Olympics who "will have a long list of rules to
carry in their pockets along with their tickets." According to the
Times, the Chinese Olympic organizing committee listed a set of
restrictions for the 500,000 overseas visitors expected in August.
Olympic spectators are being told not to bring in "anything
detrimental" to China, including printed materials, photos, records
or movies. Religious or political banners or slogans are banned. So
are rallies, demonstrations and marches -- unless approved by
authorities in advance.

In early June, the Australian Olympic Committee (the AOC) warned its
athletes to beware of Amnesty International bearing gifts. The
warning was issued after Amnesty was said to have given New Zealand
athletes "information pack[s] on human rights abuses" to carry to the
Beijing Games.

Inside the pack would be an interesting assortment of goodies:
badges, bumper stickers and tattoos that highlighted Amnesty
International's concerns in China. According to an AAP newsfeed, "The
packs tell the stories of those who have suffered under the Chinese
government, outlines Amnesty's position on the Olympics, [and]
suggests ways athletes can take action..."

The Australian Olympics Committee, and its spokesperson Michael
Tancred, may have been reacting to a recent epistle from the
International Olympics Committee, issued in April and designed to
"clarify" Rule 51 of the Olympics Charter.

Rule 51 bans any "demonstration or political, religious or racial
propaganda" in Olympic areas. The April IOC letter expands on the
rule, saying: "The conduct of participants at all sites, areas and
venues includes all actions, reactions, attitudes or manifestations
of any kind by a person or group of persons, including but not
limited to their look, external appearance, clothing, gestures, and
written or oral statements." The Games "are not a stage for different
kinds of political statements about issues such as armed conflicts,
regional differences, religious disputes and many others."

Maybe it was this set of guidelines that triggered the Australian
reaction. The AAP newsfeed suggested that "The New Zealand athletes
are being asked to speak out, write to those jailed by the Chinese
regime, sign petitions and a banner, place an Amnesty sticker on
their luggage or sports bag, and put their views on Amnesty's China
campaign website."

According to the Aussie interpretation of the International Olympic
Committee (IOC) guidelines, athletes can express political opinions
verbally or in writing in interviews in Olympic media centers or in
Games "mixed zones" as well as personal websites. "Our athletes are
free to comment on human rights, Tibet and any other issue -- they
have complete freedom of speech at the Olympic Games at Beijing," the
AOC spokesman said. Then, however, Rule 51 kicks in.

"While they are allowed to express a point of view on any issue, we
wouldn't allow them to wear Free Tibet shirts, or unfurl banners
inside venues or things like that."

The spokesperson brought in the significance of Chinese law: The
country has "very strict laws on what you can take into the country
and we wouldn't want to breach the host nation's laws." This
sensitivity to the law of the host country echoes concerns in my post
about evangelical strategies with respect to the Olympics.

An April 2008 speech by Jacques Rogge, the president of the IOC,
tried to nestle the guidelines in human rights language and
sensitivity to athletes. The talk, April 11, 2008, in Beijing, was a
gentle-sounding insight into the IOC's balancing act on flag-waving
and free speech.

According to Rogge:

"A person's ability to express his or her opinion is a basic human
right and as such does not need to have a specific clause in the
Olympic Charter because its place is implicit. But we do ask that
there is no propaganda nor demonstrations at Olympic Games venues for
the very good and simple reason that we have 205 countries and
territories represented, many of whom are in conflict, and the Games
are not the place to take political nor religious stances."

If athletes genuinely want to express their opinion, that's fine. But
let's not forget, there is also the right not to express an opinion.
Athletes should feel no moral obligation to speak out. They deserve
the right to focus on their preparations and should not be made to
feel obliged to express themselves if they do not wish to. The IOC
and the National Olympic Committees have the duty to protect them
from any kind of pressure. In any case, I do not expect there will be
many incidents (of breach of rule 51). Athletes are mature and
intelligent people. They will know what they can say or not say. If
they have doubts, the IOC and the NOCs are here to guide them.
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