Ex-China basketball star says Olympics are platform for change
by Greg Heakes
Fri Feb 15, 8:40 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Olympians who speak freely about politics and human rights while in China for the Beijing Games may be doing their Chinese counterparts a favour, says a former national basketball team member.
"People should remind the Chinese athletes that they are being brainwashed," said Chen Kai, a member of China's men's basketball team in the 1970s. "The Chinese athletes are nothing but tools and lackeys of the state."
Chen has made trips to Taiwan and Germany in recent months to get his message across, speaking to sports associations about the ritualized conformity of China's secretive national sports programme.
Chen, who took part in anti-government protests in Tiananmen Square, competed for China at the 1978 World Basketball Championships in Manila but missed out on the 1980 Olympics when China boycotted the Moscow Games.
He is the first Chinese athlete to give a rare glimpse into the secretive world of China's elite athletic establishment.
"Inside China nobody knows about Tiananmen Square unless they lived through it," Chen said. "These athletes are all too young to remember it and nobody talks about it."
Chen has tried to use his platform as a former athlete to open dialogue on matters such as the Tiananmen Square massacre. The former officer in the People's Liberation Army recently published a book 'One in a Billion: Journey Toward Freedom - Story of a Pro Basketball Player in China'.
He said the latest controversy involving the British Olympic Association's plan to prevent all British competitors from commenting on "politically sensitive issues" during the August 8-24 Beijing Games plays into the hands of China's authoritarian regime.
"There will be huge political and financial earthquakes during the Olympics," Chen predicted.
Chen launched the Olympic Freedom T-shirt Global Movement last summer and boasts that some of his anti-Chinese Government T-shirts have already been smuggled into mainland China.
The shirts feature the words 'Beijing 1989 Tiananmen, Beijing 2008 Olympics' with blood dripping from the letters. They are exactly the kind of attire that might get any athlete caught wearing one during the games, a flight on the next plane home.
United States Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel said American athletes aren't going to be censored but they should follow the Olympic Charter's rule 51 which deals with protests on official Olympic sites and venues.
"We are not imposing any restrictions or prohibitions on free speech," Seibel told AFP.
"For every Olympic Games we provide our athletes with a basic understanding of history and culture of the host country. In this case it is China.
"We don't go as far as to tell them how they should answer questions."
Chris Rudge, chief executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said Canadian athletes won't be asked to sign any documents restricting speech but they are expected to use common sense in Beijing.
"We are certainly not going to give them a check list with don't say this or don't say that," Rudge told AFP on Friday.
"We think they will conduct themselves appropriately."
Canadian Olympians are informed before every Summer and Winter Games on the host country's history and traditions, Rudge said.
"Every country has its local challenges," Rudge said. "We will brief our athletes before and the during the Games on culture and safety."