Britain kow tows to China as athletes are forced to sign no criticism contracts
By ROB DRAPER and DANIEL KING - More by this author » Last updated at 13:07pm on 10th February 2008
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Gagged: Marathon runner Paula Radcliffe is likely to be one of those affected by the ban
British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing.
The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest.
The controversial clause has been inserted into athletes' contracts for the first time and forbids them from making any political comment about countries staging the Olympic Games.
It is contained in a 32-page document that will be presented to all those who reach the qualifying standard and are chosen for the team.
From the moment they sign up, the competitors – likely to include the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and world record holder Paula Radcliffe – will be effectively gagged from commenting on China's politics, human rights abuses or illegal occupation of Tibet.
Prince Charles has already let it be known that he will not be going to China, even if he is invited by Games organisers.
His views on the Communist dictatorship are well known, after this newspaper revealed how he described China's leaders as “appalling old waxworks” in a journal written after he attended the handover of Hong Kong. The Prince is also a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader.
Yesterday the British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that any athlete who refuses to sign the agreements will not be allowed to travel to Beijing.
* Shameful picture of England squad giving Nazi salute still haunts British sport. Why, 70 years later, do we still suck up to dictators?
Should a competitor agree to the clause but then speak their mind about China, they will be put on the next plane home.
The clause, in section 4 of the contract, simply states: “[Athletes] are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues.”
It then refers competitors to Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter, which “provides for no kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.
Zara Phillips and Toytown
Contention: the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips stands to be among the athletes who will be forced to sign the gagging order
The BOA took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.
To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games.
Simon Clegg, the BOA's chief executive, said: “There are all sorts of organisations who would like athletes to use the Olympic Games as a vehicle to publicise their causes.
“I don't believe that is in the interest of the team performance.
“As a team we are ambassadors of the country and we have to conform to an appropriate code of conduct.”
However, human rights campaigner Lord David Alton condemned the move as “making a mockery” of the right to free speech.
The controversial decision to award the Olympics to Beijing means this year's Games have the potential to be the most politically charged since 1936.
Adolf Hitler used the Munich Games that year to glorify his Nazi regime, although his claims of Aryan superiority were undermined by black American athlete Jesse Owens winning four gold medals.
More recently, there was a mass boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
But Colin Moynihan – now BOA chairman Lord Moynihan – defied Margaret Thatcher's calls for British athletes to stay at home and won a silver medal as cox of the men's eight rowing team.
Former Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent has already criticised the Chinese authorities over the training methods used on children, which he regarded as tantamount to abuse.
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England Nazi salute Berlin 1938 Olympics
Past shame: The England team give Nazi salutes at the 1938 Berlin Olympics, a memory which critics do not want to see recalled in China
Young gymnasts told him they were repeatedly beaten during training sessions.
Mr Clegg confirmed that such criticisms would be banned under the team's code of conduct, which will be in force from when athletes are selected in July, until the end of the Games on August 24.
Mr Clegg said: “During the period of the contract, that sort of action would be in di