With less than a week before the start of the Asian Games in China, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) has publicly threatened athletes with the removal of accreditation should they decide to exercise their fundamental right to freedom of expression.
The OCA’s archaic approach to limiting athletes’ rights to freedom of expression is a clear demonstration that sport systems continue to believe they can operate in silo without adherence to globally accepted human rights. This decision from the OCA appears to favour China’s authoritarian rule of law that rejects freedom of expression over every athlete’s civil liberties.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The Asian Games is a media of communication to the world, and the organisation’s leadership cannot be a barrier to human rights.
Global Athlete hopes every athlete attending the Asian Games uses the United Nations Human Rights Declaration to guide their decision on when and where to exercise their right to stand up for social and racial injustices that they wish to support. Outdated “sport rules” should never supersede basic human rights.
If athletes want to speak up – in a way that respects the rights and freedoms of others as detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the sport community should embrace their diverse opinions. Silencing athletes should never be tolerated, and to threaten them with removal from the Asian Games highlights the imbalance of power between sport leaders and athletes.
Silencing the athlete voice within sporting organisations has led to oppression, discrimination, and abuse of athletes – restricting their basic human rights has, and will, do the same.