Mishcon demands IOC ensures athlete safety

Mishcon de Reya

has written to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) urging it to clarify how it will protect athletes who express dissident views at the Beijing Olympics.

Written on behalf of Team Darfur, an international coalition of athletes who are trying to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, the letter states: “The IOC must consider not only the principles upon which the Games are founded but also the universal principal of freedom of expression.”

Protests have already marred the Beijing Olympic torch relay in Athens, London, Paris and San Francisco as activists attempt to raise awareness of human rights abuses in China, Chinese-ruled Tibet and in Sudan, where government-backed militia groups responsible for atrocities have used Chinese funding and weapons.

Last week (10 April), IOC president Jacque Rogge told national Olympic committees that freedom of expression is a “basic human right”.

However the Mischon De Reya letter continues: “Given that no measures have been put in place to safeguard freedom of expression, you will appreciate that Team Darfur is not reassured by your assertion that the IOC recognises its importance.”

Mishcon public advocacy solicitor Alexandra Fawcett told The Lawyer it was imperative for the IOC to clarify its position and to illustrate how protection would be provided to athletes on a “practical level.”

“The IOC has a responsibility to provide a safe platform for freedom of expression for athletes. There is a need for clarification and we hope this is the beginning of a useful and valuable dialogue.”

Fawcett, who took the work on a pro bono basis, said the IOC was to be commended for opening up the debate on freedom of expression but that it needed to act quickly before the games begin on 8 August.

China was selected by the IOC to host the 2008 Olympics on the basis that it improved its human rights record. Yet a report published by Amnesty International this month said that a “current wave of repression is occurring not in spite of the Olympics but actually because of the Olympics”.

Another report by the human rights group published in May last year also found that despite an international weapons embargo, China and Russia have both shipped air-to-ground fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships to Sudan.