Tuesday, August 19, 2008

“The legacy of most elite athletes is to be completely vanilla” John Amaechi

Athletes at all levels are often thought of as apolitical. Many athletes are unwilling to use their visibility to speak out about politics or any other "controversial" topic. Some commentators, John Amaechi among them, have called for athletes in Beijing to speak out publicly about human rights issues in China while they have the world stage.

A German magazine, Suddeutsche Zeitung, made a similar call for the entire German Olympic team to participate in a campaign called, “We are all Chinese.” The focus of the campaign is to call attention to the Chinese government’s violations of human rights and limitations of free speech among Chinese citizens.

Nine German athletes responded by protesting the Chinese Government’s treatment of Chinese dissidents. Among the athletes joining the protest was Imke Duplitzer, the four time Olympic fencer who is also one of the thirteen publicly out gay or lesbian athletes in Beijing (AfterEllen added two more names to the roster of publicly out lesbians competing in Beijing). Duplitizer held a poster of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese lawyer and human rights activist who has been imprisoned and reportedly tortured by the Chinese government for calling attention to human rights violations in China.

Forty other Olympians from around the world have signed an open letter to the Chinese government protesting human rights violations by the host country. Organizers of the protest letter claim that some athletes have withdrawn their support out of fear of retaliation or backlash.

Amaechi is blogging from Beijing for Amnesty International and providing basketball commentary for the BBC. John is an outspoken advocate for athletes to speak out about human rights or any other social justice issue. Check out his blog for some thoughtful reflections on the Beijing Olympics and athletes as activists.

1 comment:

BJ Gomez said...

I've been thinking a lot about protesting human rights violations in China... especially inlight of talking about athletes who don't feel free enough to be open about their own lives. In one way, they are a group who probably best understands what it means to be denied their rights, while at the same time they have felt impelled to comply with their own oppression in order to further their pursuit of their dreams. What a tough position.

And as for the other athletes... it's still tough...

The Olympic Games are a dual symbol of world unity and individual and nationalistic pride. The athletes have spent so much of their lives struggling to make it there... they can't tarnish the experience.

I respect John Amaechi. But his view is now someone on the outside looking in. But it's great that there is a discussion...