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Sports

German Olympics Official: We're Not Ignoring Human Rights

Should and can athletes stand up and take a stance on political issues? DW-WORLD.DE spoke to the German Olympic Sports Federation amid a growing debate on human rights as the Beijing Olympics loom.

Official gear for the German Olympic team

That logo's fine but athletes can't display political symbols at Olympic venues

This weekend, the president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering called on athletes traveling to the Beijing Olympics to protest against human rights violations in Tibet. "Each athlete can, in their own way, give a signal. No official should prevent that," he added, insisting that a love of sport and the Olympic Games is no excuse for "blurring our outlook" on human rights.

Last week, under the slogan "We are all Chinese," nine German Olympians posed in their sports kit for a Munich magazine while holding pictures of Chinese dissidents in front of their faces.

Many of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) have been criticized by human rights groups for their stances on the situation in China and the regulations that some of them have applied to their athletes traveling to Beijing

As the debate over press freedom and human rights abuses intensifies in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing, DW-WORLD.DE spoke to Michael Schirp, head of the media department at the German Olympic S ports Federation’s (DOSB) about what's acceptable and what's not.

DW-WORLD.DE: Amnesty International (AI) has called for the DOSB to clarify its rules on political protests by athletes. Has the DOSB taken any action on this or does it believe the rules are clear?

Michael Schirp: DOSB states that rules have been made clear by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In Germany, the DOSB has explained the rules both in public and on the German team's internal Olympic Web site.

Generally, athletes are free to say what they think, be it inside or outside of the Olympic venues. They may express their opinions in press conferences or even in the mixed zones, in our “Deutsches Haus” or anywhere else. There is only one issue that is prohibited according to the IOC charter: the showing of signs, flags, bracelets, pins, banners with political, racial, ethnic, religious content or propaganda if shown inside of areas where an accreditation is needed such as the Olympic venues.

Apart from that, Amnesty International and the DOSB have worked together on the subject of human rights since May 2007.

Amnesty International has criticized the DOSB for saying that the wearing of wristbands (AI's “Gold for Human Rights” or the German athletes' “Sports for Human Rights” bands) are forbidden as they are political statements. Does this ruling still stand? What is the DOSB's definition of a political statement?

The German Olympic team with President Horst Koehler

The German Olympic team with President Horst Koehler

I would point you to my first answer. This is not limited to Olympic Games. You'll find this in any major sport event. If every political, religious or ethnic conflict in the world would be carried into sporting events, the weight of such statements would be marginalized anyway. But the most important thing is to keep these conflicts out of the event itself.

Sport is intended to build bridges, not to further build walls. It is only at the Olympic Games that 205 NOCs and the countries they represent come together in a peaceful competition.

What are the DOSB guidelines in terms of punishments for athletes who make political statements or protests in Beijing?

We don't have any of those. We are sure athletes are aware of their responsibility and have made up their minds regarding human rights in China. They will find ways to express their opinion or, if they choose, not to, which also has to be respected as their free will.

Before the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, neither the IOC nor DOSB mentioned anything about China's human rights record. Did the Tibet situation force the Olympic committees to accept that China had a human rights problem?

To be perfectly blunt, this is just wrong. Before Tibet, the media were not interested in sporting organizations which dealt with the issue. It was in May 2007, almost a year before the incidents in Tibet, that the DOSB published a declaration on human rights in China. This was unique at the time.

Olympic torch relay marked by protests in London

Protests against China's Tibet policy marred the Olympic torch relay in Europe

We clearly stated that we consider the situation to be unsatisfactory. But we are a sport organization and cannot solve the problems that the UN and others couldn't solve for 50 years. Sport is communication, not isolation. We repeated this during Easter 2008 and urged the parties in Tibet to stop violence and bloodshed. Again, this was all published.

Amnesty International has said that it has held meetings with the DOSB to discuss human right. What has been the outcome of the meetings with AI?

This was just the start. Cooperation with AI, Human Rights Watch and the human rights spokesperson of the German government continues. All three of them have met with the team leaders in an attempt to pass on their information to the Olympic Team. The team's internal Web site provides all this information. In addition, every German athlete who goes to Beijing carries with him or her material from these human rights organizations and the UN.

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