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February 10, 2008
Brits to force Olympic athletes to sign "no criticism" pledge
"Kow tow" is the Chinese word denoting the way an individual is to grovel before authority. In practical terms, it meant kneeling before the Emperor and touching your head to the ground.
What else do you call what the British sports authorities have in store for their Olympic athletes?
British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing. Yes, criticizing the host is considered the height of bad manners in China.
The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest.
The controversial clause has been inserted into athletes' contracts for the first time and forbids them from making any political comment about countries staging the Olympic Games. It is contained in a 32-page document that will be presented to all those who reach the qualifying standard and are chosen for the team.
From the moment they sign up, the competitors – likely to include the Queen's granddaughter Zara Phillips and world record holder Paula Radcliffe – will be effectively gagged from commenting on China's politics, human rights abuses or illegal occupation of Tibet.
But when the actions of that host go beyond all boundaries of decent human behavior, those whose conscience requires them to speak out should have the freedom to do so. China routinely jails anyone who criticizes the government. They stifle free speech, arrest journalists, brutally suppress dissent in rural areas, and have occupied its tiny neighbor Tibet for 50 years.
Sometimes, you just have to say "to hell" with good manners and speak you mind.