- Saturday May 31 2008
- Article history
UK Guardian: Athletes in the Beijing Olympics should use the platform they provide to speak out against China's continued human rights abuses, according to John Amaechi, an ambassador for London's successful 2012 bid who today takes on a similar role with Amnesty International.
Amaechi, who was raised in Stockport but made his name at the pinnacle of American sport in the National Basketball Association, will travel to Beijing as Amnesty's official sporting ambassador.
He will attempt to highlight what Amnesty claims is China's failure to deliver on the human rights reforms promised when bidding for the games, and will press athletes to do likewise. Amaechi is also scheduled to provide commentary for the BBC while in Beijing, a platform that may allow him to speak out.
Speaking to the Guardian, Amaechi said that athletes with any doubts about the Chinese regime had a duty as Olympians to raise their concerns publicly.
"I would encourage athletes not to distract themselves by burying themselves in the nuance and facts and figures and legislation of China, but simply to acknowledge that being an ambassador for human rights in China is the most Olympian thing to do. Anything less than that is not being a true Olympian, no matter the colour of the medal that you hold up," he said.
The International Olympic Committee is acutely concerned about the prospect of athletes criticising China and will remind all teams of their responsibilities under the Olympic charter, which outlaws "propaganda". Earlier this year the British Olympic Association was forced to abandon a clause in its athletes contract that would have prevented competitors from speaking about political issues.
Amaechi, who last year became the first NBA star to come out as gay, contends that the Olympic charter compels athletes to take a moral stance. "I've read the Olympic charter and when you read it, it is quite clear that it expects from athletes something more than being hugely talented beasts of burden," he said.
"It expects that sport be more than entertainment of the masses. It demands that they are intended to be a tool for wholesale change in the lives of individuals and groups." He called on the IOC to do more to pressure China into reform. "If you have the power to make the world better then that's something you should do, particularly when it is directly in line with your charter. To ignore those ideals so as not to embarrass a host compromises the movement."
Amaechi's appointment as a sporting ambassador is a coup for Amnesty, which maintains that China has failed to deliver promised reforms to the use of the death penalty, the justice system, media freedoms and the right of ordinary Chinese to express dissent.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: "Amnesty International is delighted John Amaechi has chosen to work with us. We hope John's involvement will help encourage fellow sportsmen, the Olympic authorities and the thousands of press due to descend on the games to take a closer look at the appalling human rights record of the Chinese authorities. It is only through public scrutiny that we can hope to achieve a lasting legacy of human rights for the people of China."