Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Freedom of speech 1, China nil

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has backed away from its plans to gag Olympic atheletes, promising that the contract will be rewritten to bring the guidelines into line with those of other countries. It's a clear victory for the Green Party, who have kicked up a fuss about this, and a clear defeat for the "sport and politics don't mix" crowd and those who sought to appease China with silence. As the Greens' Keith Locke points out, one of the reasons the 2008 Olympics were awarded to Beijing was to shine a spotlight on its human rights record and give it a reason to improve. That would hardly be possible if athletes are forbidden from speaking out.

(OTOH, the IOC guidelines aren't that flash either, as they ban any political demonstrations at the games, explicitly to prevent any repeat of Tommie Smith and John Carlos's memorable and dignified demonstration at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Cthulhu forbid that athletes have something on their mind besides sport and making money for the sponsors...)

What's surprising in all this is that the Labour government, many of whom cut their teeth opposing the Springbok Tour and speaking out for human rights, backed the NZOC's cowardly censorship. But we know they've travelled a long way - in Helen Clark's case, all the way from protesting against Vietnam to sending SAS troops to kill for America in Afghanistan - and this is simply another sign that they have lost touch with their values.

As for the games themselves, I take it as axiomatic that we should not be attending a major sporting event in a country which supports genocide in Darfur, executes over 1,000 people a year, and has one of the worst human rights records on the planet. By doing so, we lend them mana, so the best thing we can do is stay away. Unfortunately, the NZOC is more concerned with winning medals than morality, so the best I can do is not watch and try and avoid the sponsors if I can.