The European Union wants athletes to resist raising human rights and other sensitive political issues during the Beijing Olympics.
“Sports is too important. It is too important to use it as a political instrument,” Sports Minister Milan Zver of Slovenia, who holds the EU presidency, said on Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press.
The British Olympic Association initially said this week it would contractually require its athletes to not make any politically sensitive remarks or gestures during the games, although it later changed tack.
Other national games committees have also warned athletes not to speak out at Olympic sites.
Under IOC rules, athletes cannot discuss political issues within Olympic zones, but should have freedom of speech outside them. Zver said that even though he understood the importance of human rights, the Beijing Games should be spared the controversy.
“The Olympics is not a good place for that. We, the politicians, have to do that,” Zver said.
Zver believes multinational companies that trade and invest in China have more of an obligation to speak up rather than athletes.
“All the great companies from Europe and the United States try to be integrated in the economic development of China,” he said. “They should say something, more efficiently, not the athletes.”
Economic relations between the 27-nation EU and China are moving closer all the time. Trade was doubled between 2000-05 and bilaterally reached ¤254 billion ($370 billion) in 2006. Europe is China’s largest export market and China is Europe’s prime source of imports. Such clout could never be emulated by athletes, Zver said.
Zver stressed that China had already come a long way since Communist leader Mao Zedong was in power, and insisted it was steadily progressing toward democracy. To spoil its Olympic coming-out party could have an adverse effect, he argued.
“They need more time. Give them the time for that and do not use sports as an instrument,” Zver said.
Activists, however, want to enlist athletes in their drive to publicize the human rights problems in China. They complain about the crackdown on activists and journalists and detention without trial.
The EU addresses human rights in bilateral relations and believes a more open society and accountable government would be good development for both China and the world at large.
At the European Parliament, Conservative legislator Edward McMillan-Scott called for a full boycott of the games, saying Beijing “is not a fit host for the Olympics” because of forced labor and repression of dissent.
“The civilized world and its leaders should boycott Beijing,” McMillan-Scott said.
Zver argues that political pressure through sport doesn’t work. He said the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games was largely politically ineffectual, but did major harm to sport and the Olympics.
Instead, Zver calls for more diplomacy.
“When we go back to Moscow (in) 1980, it was not good for sport. This soft approach is much more efficient than some boycott,” he said. (AP)
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