Addressing 205 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) at the Association of National Olympic Committees meeting in Beijing yesterday, IOC President Jacques Rogge stated that 'freedom of expression is a basic human right' and referred to Rule 51.3 of the Olympic Charter which provides that 'no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or areas'.
'A person's ability to express his or her opinion is a basic human right and as such does not need to have a specific clause in the Olympic Charter because its place is implicit', explained the IOC President .
'But we do ask that there is no propaganda nor demonstrations at Olympic Games venues for the very good and simple reason that we have 205 countries and territories represented, many of whom are in conflict, and the Games are not the place to take political nor religious stances.'
Rule 51.3 establishes a principle that has been in the Olympic Charter for more than 50 years in order to preserve the universality of the Games. 'The application of this regulation is common sense,' explained Rogge, adding that without this rule, Olympic competitions and ceremonies could be used as a stage for all different kinds of political statements about armed conflicts, regional differences of all kind, religious disputes and many others.
'If athletes genuinely want to express their opinion, that's fine, Rogge continued'. But let's not forget, there is also the right not to express an opinion. Athletes should feel no moral obligation to speak out. They deserve the right to focus on their preparations and should not be made to feel obliged to express themselves if they do not wish to. The IOC and the National Olympic Committees have the duty to protect them from any kind of pressure. In any case, I do not expect there will be many incidents (of breach of rule 51). Athletes are mature and intelligent people. They will know what they can say or not say. If they have doubts, the IOC and the NOCs are here to guide them'' Rogge concluded.