Monday, 11 February 2008

Comparing China to Nazi Germany

This weekend it was reported (AP) that British Athletes would have to sign an extra clause to their contracts, "prohibiting politically sensitive remarks or gestures during the Beijing Games." In a statement to reporters, British Olympic Association communications director Graham Mewson said Sunday that "The reality is, given the level of political scrutiny of the world's media on these games and the way China will handle them, the BOA felt it was sensible and proper to flag that rule to our athletes." The order is not a complete gag on athletes, however. If they are asked questions about the situation in China, they are free to give their views. However, voluntary/unsolicited statements (such as wearing a FREE TIBET t-shirt) are not allowed.

The British paper, the Daily Mail, has noted that the ban "raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938." (sic, the Berlin Olympics were in 1936)
Photo caption: "National disgrace: In a picture from a German archive never before
published in Britain, the England football team give Nazi salutes in Berlin in 1938 (sic)"

Meanwhile, England's Prince Charles has already stated that he will not be going to China, even if invited.
However, after "a storm of protest from human rights groups" (in just one day) the British Olympic Association has backed down on the proposed ban, and is rethinking its rules for British athletes.

In the next few months more countries will struggle between maintaining the basic freedoms of their athletes and appeasing the Chinese government. With luck, the commotion will heighten awareness of the underlying and very serious human rights issues in China, especially regarding Tibet.

The Olympics has long been a venue for raising otherwise ignored social and political issues. Several over the years have been boycotted. Obviously the sports can serve the noble purpose of bridging gaps between peoples, but this cannot be at the cost of basic rights and freedoms, especially the freedom to point out the suffering so near, and yet pushed so far from our attention.


  1. China does have a poor record on human rights. But there is no comparison at all with Nazi Germany. And - due to its use of unlimited detention without trial and torture among other things - the USA's record is pretty bad too. Even though China invaded Tibet, I don't think we need to 'take sides' and demonise China for it.

  2. Justin - I think you're very right about the comparison with Nazi Germany. Although... comparing 1936 Nazis, who to my knowledge had not begun any wide-scale killing, to the Chinese Communist Party today, who is reported to have caused the deaths of 1.2 million Tibetans, one might say that it is the Germans that are unfairly vilified.

    I also agree with you that the US is in pretty awful human rights territory as well. But I do think we have some responsibility, as compassionate beings and citizens of democratic nations, to take sides against all such forms of abuse that we find.