cross posted from The Dream Antilles
The IOC (the “International Olympic Committee”), the group that runs the Olympics, has figured out how to prevent participating athletes from demonstrating for Tibetan freedom and displeasing their Chinese hosts. The age old tactic: a “chilling effect” on free speech.
It’s relatively simple: the IOC tells athletes that they have a right to free speech, but they don’t have the right to make “propaganda.” IOC won’t define line between the two. But if an athlete so much as steps even with one toe into the latter, s/he’s out. of. here. Goodbye. Put simply, the IOC doesn’t need explicitly to forbid certain kinds of free speech. It can accomplish the same, desired result by harshly and intentionally chilling it.
A definition of “chilling effect”:
A chilling effect is a term in United States law that describes a situation where speech or conduct is suppressed or limited by fear of penalization at the hands of an individual or group.
And that, folks, is precisely what’s going on with athletes’ free speech at the Beijing Olympics.
The Times reports:
Athletes who display Tibetan flags at Olympic venues – including in their own rooms – could be expelled from this summer’s Games in Beijing under anti-propaganda rules.
Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said that competitors were free to express their political views but faced sanctions if they indulged in propaganda.
Got that? Expression of political views: good. Indulging in propaganda: bad.
But, you’re asking, is there a difference between the two? How does one know if one is expressing free speech or propagandizing? What’s the difference?
The question of what will constitute propaganda when the Games are on in August and what will be considered opinion under IOC rules is one vexing many in the Olympic movement. The Olympic Charter bans any kind of “demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda” in any Olympic venue or area. /snip
The IOC did not specify whether a Chinese athlete or a foreign competitor of Tibetan origin flying the Tibetan flag would be regarded as patriotic or propagandist. A spokeswoman said that there had been no discussion internally or with the Chinese authorities about use of the Tibetan national flag. Asked whether athletes would be allowed to hang the flag in their rooms, she said: “The village is an Olympic venue so it falls under the same rules and regulations of any venue which would mean that anything in there would be judged on whether it was a provocative propaganda initiative.”
The fact that the IOC has still not qualified the exact interpretation of “propaganda” means that some athletes remain confused about what they can say during the 16-day event without being sent home or stripped of a medal.
Unfurling Free Tibet banners or wearing Save Darfur T-shirts at Olympic venues are acts likely to be regarded as a breach of the charter, which was introduced after the American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the Black Power salute on the podium at the 1968 Games in Mexico City.
So, as of right now, there’s no official definition of what constitutes “propaganda” and how propaganda might be distinguished from “free speech.”
The consequences of uttering or otherwise expressing “propaganda,” however, are quite dire. This means that as things stand now, there is an enormous “chilling effect” repressing legitimate, free speech.
No athlete who has trained for his/her entire life is going to jeopardize participation in the Olympics by testing the definition of “propaganda” by hanging a Tibetan flag in a dorm room, by waving the flag on a victory lap, by speaking out about Tibet to the press, by showing a picture of the Dalai Lama, by wearing Tibetan malas, by wearing a Tibet hat or headband or t-shirt. Why? Because that might be considered to be propaganda by the IOC.
So far, the IOC has been very much China’s lap dog. As the Times reported:
A spokeswoman said that there had been no discussion internally or with the Chinese authorities about use of the Tibetan national flag.
You might wonder what this question of definition in the IOC rules has to do with China. In fact, it has everything to do with it. The IOC does not dare to step on China’s sensitivities about the topic. In these circumstances, the message to athletes is incredibly simple. STFU about Tibet. Or go home. Free speech be damned.
The IOC doesn’t need to enact a gag rule for its athletes. That would be assailed as a “prior restraint” on free speech. No, when the stakes are this high, a harsh “chilling effect” accomplishes precisely the same goal. So much for the so-called “Olympic ideal.”