Thus, it should come as little surprise that the British Olympic Association's current fuhrer, Simon Clegg, is compelling all members of the 2008 British Olympic team to sign a contract promising "not to comment on any politically sensitive issues" at the Beijing Games. Violators of the contract will be subject to immediate deportation back to the U.K. from China.
Somebody please tell these guys that just because it's China doesn't mean you have to show up with a Party line. Imagine, if you will, the indoctrination seminars the BOA is cooking up to keep their apparatchiks in lockstep this summer:
Example A. Are you upset about the report from British rowing icon Matthew Pinsent that young Chinese gymnasts have told him they're routinely beaten during training sessions? Just reframe it and repeat after me: "We embrace cultural diversity." Mum's the word.
Example B. Don't like the fact that your silver medal is mostly lead that's leeching at the edges? Remember not to be condescending. We support the efforts of emerging nations. Stiff upper lip, mate.
Example C. Troubled that your commemorative stuffed panda was manufactured in a sweat shop by child labor? Be proud of your heritage! We had our industrial revolution. Let them have theirs.
Of course, the BOA contract itself is an enormous political comment on sensitive issues in China, which begs the question: since it violates its own terms, doesn't that make it invalid?
The defenders of free speech in Britain have taken up arms in response to what human rights campaigner Lord David Alton describes as a "mockery" of the right to free speech. He is joined by legions of others, including Prince Charles, a longtime supporter of the Dalai Lama, who has made it known he will not be going to China even if he is invited by the Olympic authorities.
So draconian is the gag order being placed on British competitors that it may be used to prevent athletes from even speaking to colleagues about any incidents they may witness in which a person is being mistreated. Those who fail to exercise self-censorship in their e-mails or blogs from Beijing may also risk deportation.
Lining up with Britain in this matter are New Zealand and Belgium. They are opposed by many others, including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia, all of whom have declared their athletes will be free to speak about any issue concerning China. Stated Jouko Purontakanen, secretary general of the Finnish Olympic Committe, "The freedom of expression is a basic right that cannot be limited."
Added Lord Alton:
It is extraordinary to bar athletes from expressing an opinion about China's human-rights record. About the only justification for participating in the Beijing Games is that it offers an opportunity to encourage more awareness about human rights.
Imposing compulsory vows of silence is an affront to our athletes, and in China it will be viewed as acquiescence.
"Paging Mr. Chamberlain . . . Mr. Neville Chamberlain, white courtesy telephone, please."