Thursday, May 26

China’s threat to ‘punish’ Olympic athletes for free speech is ‘very worrying’, says Australia | Winter Olympic Games

Potential restrictions on athlete speech at the Beijing Winter Olympics are “very worrying”, Australian Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said, after China warned of “punishments” for political comments at next year’s Games. month.

Colbeck said the Australian government objected to China’s notice, saying athletes had the right to freedom of expression on the Olympic stage.

“The International Olympic Committee has made it clear that all athletes have the right to political views and the freedom to express them, including through social media and media interviews,” Colbeck said in comments to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Any threat directed at Australian athletes for speaking out is therefore very worrying and not supported by the Australian Government.”

Yang Shu, deputy director for international relations at the Beijing organizing committee, told a news conference on Tuesday that “dedicated departments” would investigate athletes’ comments at the Games.

“Any expression that is in keeping with the Olympic spirit, I am sure will be protected,” Yang said.

“Any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, is also subject to certain punishment.”

Yang added that the Olympic Charter opposes the “politicization of sports.”

Guardian Australia has contacted the offices of Colbeck and Foreign Minister Marise Payne for further comment.

Australia will join the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada in a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games, citing diplomatic and human rights concerns. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in December that the federal government’s decision was “in Australia’s interests.”

Human rights groups had warned athletes against making comments about China’s human rights record or the treatment of Uyghur Muslims at the Beijing Games. Human Rights Watch also raised concerns about “Orwellian surveillance state” measures, including concerns about a phone app that Chinese authorities have asked spectators, athletes and fans to use.

The Olympic committees of several nations, including the US and Canada, have warned athletes about the safety of their mobile devices. British athletes have been encouraged not to bring their personal phones and have been offered replacements by the British Olympic Association.

The International Olympic Committee’s charter states that “no form of political, religious or racial demonstration or propaganda is permitted in Olympic sites, facilities or other areas.” However, an exception to that rule was added last year ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, when athletes were given the “opportunity to express their views” while conducting interviews, on social media and on the field of play before from the start of the competition.

That rule change also noted that athletes are expected to “respect applicable laws, Olympic values ​​and their fellow athletes.”

Colbeck’s comments come days after John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee and vice president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), gave an interview to Chinese state media in which he praised the “incredible” and “wonderful” preparations for the Beijing. Games.

“I have high regard for the Chinese people and their ability to host the Olympics,” Coates told broadcaster CGTN.

“I was the Australian team chief of mission for the 2008 Olympics, which was a great success, and I hope the Beijing Winter Olympics will be similarly successful.”

Human rights groups and US Senator Rex Patrick have urged Coates to raise humanitarian concerns with Chinese authorities, including the detention in China of Australians Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei. But in a speech to the National Press Club in October 2021, Coates said Olympic officials “didn’t have the ability to go to a country and tell them what to do.”

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“The IOC’s mandate is to ensure that there are no human rights abuses with regard to the conduct of the Games within the National Olympic Committee or within the Olympic movement,” Coates said in his speech.

“We are not a world government. We have to respect the sovereignty of the countries hosting the Games.

“The situations you have referred to, the humanitarian ones in China, are not within our competence.”

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