I love sports.
I love the Olympic Games.
A surprising but absolutely useless talent I possess is that I can recite the City of each games for every modern Olympic year. Did you know the 1904 games were held in St Louis, Missouri? If you didn't you do now. Look how easy it is for a humble blogger to enrich your life.
And every Olympics within my living memory have been marred by scandal and my peculiar talent also tells me that this was so for many of the games that predate those that I can personally remember. Its Human Nature on display I guess.
Anyway its an Olympic year and you don't need me to tell you that this year they are in Beijing, China.
Nor are any of you unaware that China is not a leading light in the matter of human rights.
Fundamental Principles of Olympism
1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
3. The Olympic Movement is the concerted, organised, universal and permanent action, carried out under the supreme authority of the IOC, of all individuals and entities who are inspired by the values of Olympism. It covers the five continents. It reaches its peak with the bringing together of the world’s athletes at the great sports festival, the Olympic Games. Its symbol is five interlaced rings.
4. The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. The organisation, administration and management of sport must be controlled by independent sports organisations.
5. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
6. Belonging to the Olympic Movement requires compliance with the Olympic Charter and recognition by the IOC.
Anyway the New Zealand IOC has inserted a clause in the Athletes contract that requires them
"to not make statements, demonstrate (whether verbally, or by any act or omission) regarding political, religious or racial matters".
Minister of Sport, Clayton Cosgrove, agrees this is appropriate in the usual weasel words of Government double talk.
Sports Minister Clayton Cosgrove told The Press the clause was there for the athletes' protection.
"We all support freedom of speech. But this is entirely a matter for the New Zealand Olympic Committee, which is an independent body.
"It is designed to ensure that athletes are not treated as political pawns so they can concentrate on their sport."
I wonder where he stood during the 1981 Springbok tour, I know where many of his colleagues did including his boss, our Prime Minister. And I wonder what the 1981 versions of these people would think of this clause, would they speak out, protest it, maybe even take to the streets, as they did then? (1)
And we all know what it is they don't want the athletes to talk about but to hide this fact they have shut down other forms of expression as well most of them totally harmless.
Thus if I were about to begin my heat in the 100 meters in Beijing I would not be permitted under this clause to make the sign of the cross, a natural act for me and for many athletes of religious conviction. Not that I ever reached the exalted heights of being an Olympian, in fact I was an extremely poor sprinter, I enjoyed athletics though and that is the main thing.
From time to time I agree with the Green Party and this is one of those times
The Green Party wrote yesterday to the NZOC asking it to amend contracts, guaranteeing the right to speak freely while in China.
"I am asking our Olympic Committee to take out the offending clause," said Green MP Keith Locke.
"Not to do so would put us at odds with other Western countries ... that are allowing their athletes freedom of speech."
And when I think about it, although I am usually at odds with the Greens over their policies and on their basic philosophies they have a virtue that I do admire - they stick up for what they believe in and tend to be utterly consistent in upholding the values they adhere to. Regardless of the political consequences of doing so.
Its a pity we don't more politicians that exhibit this level of integrity.
(1) When Clayton Cosgrove made his statement he is not speaking as an individual but speaking for the Government. Which is why it is reasonable to bring other members of the Government into this discussion.