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IOC President Pledges Free Speech for Beijing Olympics Athletes - with Exceptions

  • Stephanie Ho

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is reaffirming that athletes at the Beijing Olympics will have free speech. But, at the same time, he says the IOC is issuing guidelines against demonstrations or displays of propaganda. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Freedom of speech has become a hot topic, as Olympic athletes around the world question how much they can express their personal political views while taking part in the Beijing Olympics in August.

Speaking to reporters in the Chinese capital Thursday, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said the IOC will provide all national Olympic committees with full guidelines on free speech.

"For us, freedom of expression is something that is absolute. It's a human right," he said. "Athletes have it. There are small restrictions in not making propaganda or demonstrations in Olympic venues, like on the podium, for obvious reasons."

He says the Olympics is not the venue for any of the 205 member nations to hash out their respective religious, racial or ethnic disagreements.

Although Olympic athletes will be restricted from propaganda demonstrations, Rogge says they are completely free to say whatever they want to journalists.

He did not detail any specific punishment for athletes who violate the IOC guidelines, saying each case would be examined on an individual basis.

Rogge says there are many important points the Chinese side has met in terms of preparing to host the Olympics. But he emphasizes that he is still not satisfied with Beijing's implementation of a law that is supposed to guarantee media freedom.

"We know that the implementation of this law is not perfect. There are shortcomings," he said.

He says he has asked Chinese authorities to fully implement the law as soon as possible.

The IOC president says he was sad to see protests against the Olympic torch relay in London and Paris, especially any that resulted in violence against torch bearers. Despite the chaos, he says there are no plans to curtail this torch relay. But he says, after the Beijing Olympics are over, the IOC will examine whether future torch relays should be global.

"All options are open," he said. "I just want to remind you that the novelty of going international started with Athens (Olympics in 2000). And, it was a resounding success. Now, of course, we have more difficulties, so we will have to assess what we do later on."

He acknowledges there is what he calls a "crisis," in the run-up to the current Olympics. But he is asking people to put it in perspective, saying "the IOC has weathered many bigger storms," including past boycotts and a deadly terrorist attack at the Munich games in 1972.