Behaviour by athletes that violates the “Olympic spirit” or Chinese rules could be subject to punishment, a Beijing 2022 official said, after rights groups voiced concern about the safety of competitors if they protest at next month’s Winter Olympics.
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites”, although it was relaxed last year to allow for gestures on the field if they are made without disruption and with respect for competitors.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made it clear that athletes are free to express their opinions on any matter in news conferences and interviews within the Olympic bubble, as long as it is not during competition or medal ceremonies.
Yang Shu, deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department, was asked during a virtual briefing on Wednesday about concerns for athletes if they speak out about rights issues during the Winter Games, which begin on February 4.
“Any expression that is in line with the Olympic spirit I’m sure will be protected and anything and any behaviour or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” Yang said.
Yang’s comments came after athletes travelling to the Beijing Olympics were warned on Tuesday by speakers at a seminar hosted by Human Rights Watch about speaking up about human rights issues while in China, for their own safety.
“There’s really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes,” Rob Koehler, the director general of the Global Athlete group, said in the seminar. “Silence is complicity and that’s why we have concerns.
“So we’re advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home.”
Rights groups have long criticised the IOC for awarding the Games to China, citing its treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups. China denies allegations of human rights abuses.
On Tuesday, the IOC said in an emailed response to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency that it “recognises and upholds human rights as enshrined in both the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter and in its Code of Ethics” at all times.