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British Olympic team told silence is golden

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  • British Olympic athletes must sign contract not to make political statements
  • China's capital Beijing will host the 2008 Olympic Games from August 8-24
  • British Olympic Association says any athletes who refuse to sign risk the axe
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British athletes selected for this year's Olympic Games in Beijing will be asked to sign a contract that forbids them from criticizing China's human rights record.

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British Olympic Association chief executive Clegg says the team must conform to an appropriate code of conduct.

Graham Nathan, spokesman for the British Olympics Association (BOA), told CNN that "British athletes will have to sign a contract promising not to comment on any politically sensitive issues."

He added that they won't go further than what is required by the International Olympic Committee charter which restricts demonstrations of political propaganda at an Olympic Games.

Athletes who refuse to sign the agreement will not be allowed to travel to compete in the Games from August 8-24, according to a sunday newspaper report.

British Olympic team members have long been required to sign a contract, but for the first time the commitment will include an undertaking not to comment on any politically sensitive issues.

The document refers athletes to Section 51 of the IOC charter which "provides for no kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

Shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt hit out at the ruling, telling Sky News: "I think the BOA have been a little bit heavy-handed on this.

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"They, I think, have rather over-interpreted (the IOC charter) by making all our athletes sign this declaration.

"I think that given America, Canada, Australia are explicitly saying that their athletes can say what they want when they go to Beijing, I think it is inappropriate to put this restriction on our athletes."

He added: "Our athletes when they go there must be allowed to say what they want. I think they have over-reacted and I think they have been perhaps a bit over-legalistic."

BOA chief executive Simon Clegg conceded that the Agreement might need to be amended to make its intentions clearer.

"I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA's Team Members Agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter. This is not our intention nor is it our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech and the final Agreement will reflect this," he said in a statement.

Clegg had told The Mail on Sunday: "There are all sorts of organisations who would like athletes to use the Olympic Games as a vehicle to publicise their causes.

"I don't believe that it is in the interests of the team performance. As a team we are the ambassadors of the country and we have to conform to an appropriate code of conduct."

The newspaper quotes Darren Campbell, British relay gold medalist at the 2004 Games in Athens saying that the BOA's demand would "heap extra pressure on athletes."

But Campbell recognized: "We are there to represent our country in sporting terms, just as our army do when they go off to war. It is not supposed to be about politics."

Amnesty International campaigns director Tim Hancock told the Press Association: "People in China can't speak out about human rights without fear of reprisals; people in Britain can.

"It's up to each individual to decide what they think and what they say about China's human rights record and that goes for athletes too.

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"What is disappointing is the suppression of such legitimate views by the British Olympic Association. The Olympics were founded on the principle of human dignity and the respect for ethical principles.

"In the spirit of human dignity, British athletes should be allowed to freely express their opinions without the risk or threat that they will be expelled from the Beijing 2008 Olympics team." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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