Sunday, 17 February 2008

NZ slammed for Olympic free speech ban

Kiwiblog's David Farrar notes that the usually Labour-loving Sunday Star Times must be pretty angry, given today's editorial about the NZ Government's attempts to keep China happy by backing free speech restrictions for the country's athletes.

"The Chinese Olympics are an attempt by an odious political regime to buy global respectability. They are as political as Hitler's Games in 1936...

It is not the athletes who are being treated as political pawns. It is lickspittle governments like Cosgrove's.

Everyone knows the Clark government will do almost anything to get its free-trade deal with China."
Government sports minister Clayton Cosgrove is backing the decision to ban New Zealand's Olympic athletes from expressing personal views during this year's games in Beijing.

The NZ Olympic Committee is attempting to back-pedal from claims that it is requiring athletes to "not make statements, demonstrate (whether verbally, or by any act or omission) regarding political, religious or racial matters".

Perhaps not surprisingly given the country's current coalition regime, New Zealand is apparently one of the few western nations trying to "prevent their Olympic athletes from commenting on what they might see, hear or think".

Even Green MP Keith Locke showed a rare streak of common sense this week, noting "Our Olympic officials should not be imitating the Chinese regime by muzzling Kiwi athletes who might be disturbed by some of what they see in China," Locke said.

Swimmer Dean Kent is aiming to qualify for his third Olympics, and believes people should worry about what's going on at home, rather than political issues in Beijing.

But Olympic silver medallist runner Dick Quax says the only interests being protected by the NZOC were those of the Chinese Government. Quax said he was able to freely speak out about the All Blacks tour of South Africa in 1976, along with teammates John Walker and Rod Dixon.
"The idea you can put blanket coverage on an athlete on speaking their mind is a bit naive," said Mr Quax, "and really they should be watering it down a bit."
Actress Mia Farrow has publicly labelled the Beijing Olympics "the genocide games", while Hollywood Director Stephen Spielberg announced earlier this week that he was pulling out as "artistic adviser" for the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

His decision was a protest at China's support (by way of money and guns) for the Sudanese government, which is accused of human rights abuses in Darfur.

When the International Olympic Committee chose China as host nation seven years ago, officials hoped it would encourage the communist country to promote improvements in human rights... That hasn't happened.
Getting the full story is still difficult... China's state-run media has little freedom, and China is regarded as the world's "leading jailer of journalists". Missionaries and religious groups are also on the hit-list of China's atheist communist Government.

And if China's free speech and human rights histories weren't enough to turn people off the Beijing games, competitors are being advised to "arrive late and leave early to avoid hot, polluted air", and many countries are supplying their athletes with breathing masks.

Some Olympic events could be postponed, and some top international athletes are considering boycotting the Beijing games altogether.

* Sunday Star Times: EDITORIAL: Beijing circus hits town

* Stuff: Richard Boock - NZ wins the gagging gold
* NZ Herald: Olympian: Forget China, focus on NZ

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  1. bobby fletcher Says:

    Oh please, China never asked for gag order:

    "a number of national Olympic committees in Asia, China has put no pressure on countries to silence their Olympians"

    "Several national Olympic committees said yesterday they had no agreements limiting free speech and denied there was any pressure from China"

    Also the "no protest t-shirt" rule has been part of IOC regulation for decades:

    "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

    Did Sydney get "Free Maori" for its close tie with NZ? Did Atlanta get "Davidian Is Good"? Will foreign government related group hang "One First Nation" flag at Whistler 2010?

  2. dave Says:

    You'd do better to stick to political issues you actually know about Mr Fletcher...

    I never said China specifically asked for a "gag order", just that New Zealand's Olympic Committee had effectively added one themselves to NZ contracts in a controversial clause (which said athletes weren't able to make any statements on "political, religious, or racial matters").

    However, this afternoon after pressure from athletes and other groups, they have today announced a u-turn and will amend the clause. The decision was announced in NZ Parliament this afternoon by Sports Minister Clayton Cosgrove.

    And I doubt Sydney got "Free Maori" (whatever that means?), as Australia is a totally different country from New Zealand.

  3. bobby fletcher Says:

    Right, AU Olympics did get the shaft for having close ties with NZ, so why is China being treated any differently?

    There's a huge distinction between "China can do something" and "China is responsible".

    Do you even know Darfur's history?

    After so many years of inaction and indifference by the West, we suddenly want to blame Darfur on China? There are plenty of blame to go around, starting with our support of the SPLA and John Garang 10 years ago.

    At any rate the original Darfur mess we started has since been replaced with inter-tribal conflict and herdsmen fighting for territory. Neither Khartoum nor Beijing has much influence over that.

    China is simply a scapegoat