Playing for Human Rights

PRAGUE -- The selection of Beijing to organize and host the 2008 Olympic Games was accompanied by the Chinese government’s pledges of visible progress on respect for human rights. We understood these as a condition whose fulfillment the International Olympic Committee would demand. That is how this year’s Olympics could contribute to a greater openness and respect for international standards of human rights and liberties in the host country.

If the words of the Olympic Charter, stating that it is a goal of Olympism to “place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” are to be fulfilled, it is necessary for all Olympians to be able to learn about the real situation in China and to point out human rights violations freely whenever and wherever in line with their conscience. We call on the International Olympic Committee to make that possible.

An interpretation of the Olympic Charter according to which human rights would be a political topic not to be discussed in the Olympic venues is alien to us. Human rights are a universal and inalienable topic, enshrined in international human rights documents that China has also signed onto, transcending international as well as domestic politics, and all cultures, religions and civilizations.

To speak of the conditions of human rights therefore cannot be in violation of the Olympic Charter. To speak of human rights is not politics; only authoritarian and totalitarian regimes try to make it so. To speak of human rights is a duty.