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British Olympic Athletes Asked Not to Speak on Political Issues

British athletes competing at this year's Olympic Games in China are being asked to sign a contract that includes a pledge not to speak out on political or human rights issues.

The British Olympic Association has confirmed the story reported by the London newspaper The Mail on Sunday.

The Mail says a clause in the contract states that "athletes are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues." It reports that anyone who violates the contract will be sent home from Beijing.

A spokesman for the British Olympic Association says the organization is not trying to censor British athletes, and that an athlete is allowed to respond if asked a direct question.

The Mail quotes the BOA's chief executive, Simon Clegg, as saying many groups would like to use the Olympics to promote their causes, but that British athletes are ambassadors of their country and must conform to an appropriate code of conduct.

China has come under criticism for ignoring or suppressing human rights, on issues ranging from freedom of religion to Tibet.

However, many countries are anxious to maintain good relations with China because of its size and its booming economy. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited China last month.

The Mail compares the Olympic contract to another order Britain gave its athletes in 1938 to give the Nazi salute before a football (soccer) game in Berlin. The Mail published the 1938 photograph in today's paper.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.