The British Olympic Association appears to be backing away from its plan to have British athletes sign a gag order prohibiting them from criticizing China's human-rights record during this year's summer Olympic Games in Beijing. BOA says it is reviewing the order, and as Tendai Maphosa reports from London, the decision follows protests from human rights groups.
The British Olympic Association says it is reviewing the agreement it wanted athletes to sign. In a VOA interview, BOA spokeswoman Miriam Wilkens said some of the wording may have gone beyond what the Olympic Charter says about athletes involving themselves in politics at Olympic Games.
"It is not our intention or our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech, and we will make sure the agreement reflects that. What we were trying to do is to flag up to all the athletes what the Olympic Charter says, which of course is - you should not use the Olympics as a ground to politicize any issue," she said.
Wilkens says the BOA mission is to ensure that athletes perform at the highest level. She says there are many other organizations that deal specifically with human-rights issues.
British athletes routinely have to sign contracts before being able to take part in Olympic Games. But this time, the British Olympic Association inserted wording stopping athletes from making politically sensitive remarks or gestures during the upcoming Games.
The human-rights advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders was among those that expressed concern about the BOA intention to keep athletes from speaking out on human rights while at the Beijing Games.
Spokesman Vincent Brossels welcomed the British Olympic Association's decision to review the gag order, and said he hoped other countries take heed.
"We expect from all the European committees and also from the international ones to be very clear on this. There is a restriction in the Olympic Charter, but nothing more should be added because if we fail to protect the freedom of expression of the athletes it will be a very bad example before the Beijing Games," he said.
Human-rights groups have accused the British Olympic Association of pandering to Chinese demands by treading softly and avoiding any criticism of Beijing. Leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said China must accept that it is playing an increasingly important role in the world, and that brings with it certain responsibilities.