SBD/Issue 142/Olympics

U.S. Athletes Discuss Beijing Olympic Games Controversy

Finch Does Not Plan To Make Political
Statement During Beijing Olympics
The voices of prospective U.S. Olympians on the situation in China “had not been heard to a great extent" until yesterday, when many athletes gathered in Chicago for the U.S. Olympic Team Media Summit, according to Clarke & Shipley of the WASHINGTON POST. The athletes found the assembled media as “eager to evaluate their savvy on Chinese politics and freedom of expression as their readiness” for the Beijing Games. The controversy around the Games is "something all athletes will be forced to grapple with," as the issue, “in large part, will help shape the success of these Olympics.” Some athletes “preferred not to speak, saying they weren’t sufficiently informed,” while others said that they are “deeply troubled by certain political issues but convinced the Olympics wasn’t the proper forum to debate them.” But wrestler Patricia Miranda “spoke with passion about wanting to make a constructive, powerful statement in China.” Miranda: “I support that!. … Every athlete has to figure out, ‘Where are my boundaries?’” Softball player Jessica Mendoza: “As athletes, we can be great advocates for this awareness.” However, she and teammate Jennie Finch, both members of athlete advocacy group Team Darfur, “don’t plan to discuss Darfur at the Games.” Finch: “The Olympics is about the Olympics and it’s a celebration. Let’s set politics and religion aside, and really enjoy the Olympics and what the Olympics are all about” (WASHINGTON POST, 4/15).

YOUR CHOICE: In Philadelphia, Frank Fitzpatrick reports U.S. athletes have “taken a course sponsored by the [USOC], whose officials have been stressing the need for Americans … to be as inoffensive as possible.” The session, conducted by S.F.-based global relationship organization Cultural Savvy, “was aimed at familiarizing the athletes with ... China’s cultural and political history and the kind of questions they might expect as a result.” Women’s soccer team F Heather O’Reilly: “Over and over, the USOC told us to speak our minds.” Gymnast David Durante: "We were given the right to say whatever we wanted to.” However, no U.S. athletes have “indicated they were planning to make a political gesture or align themselves with those battling any particular ill” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/15). Several athletes said that “to expect them to perform at a high level while also getting involved in the unfolding political drama was to expect too much.” Women’s soccer team F Abby Wambach: “That’s a lot of responsibility, to win a gold medal and also to have a political view” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/15). Wambach added that she has been “contacted by some protest groups, and the players said they’re humans, with all sorts of human political opinions, but that they’re not necessarily looking to man the barricades.” O’Reilly: “Not every athlete wants to be an activist” (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 4/14).

Mendoza Admits To Having
Contemplated Possible Podium Protest
MENDOZA LINE: Mendoza said, "For me to really voice my opinions and get too carried away would be selfish because then the attention would become on me. ... I don’t feel it’s my place to tell China what to do. It’s more my place to tell people what’s happening. … My first goal is to meet and talk with other athletes (in Beijing). I’d like to talk with even the Chinese athletes” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/15). More Mendoza: “As much as I love [softball], I also love other things, and humanity being one of them. So when I talk about Darfur, there’s nothing controversial in wanting to save human lives” (L.A. TIMES, 4/15). But in Philadelphia, Marcus Hayes notes a “podium protest in Beijing isn’t out of the question” for Mendoza. She said, "I’ve thought about that. First, you’ve got to get that 15 minutes of fame.” However, Mendoza is largely alone in “awareness and in passion.” Finch, swimmer Michael Phelps and the women's gymnastics team “pleaded ignorance to the maelstrom surrounding China’s human-rights record” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/5).

LET'S HEAR IT: In Colorado Springs, Milo Bryant writes, “If an athlete wants to use the Olympic stage to shout to the world about her feelings concerning the human injustices taking place in various spots throughout the world, then let her do it. She has earned that opportunity.” Peaceful protests “are fine. An athlete does or says something. The media reports it. The word gets out. That’s the way it should work” (Colorado Springs GAZETTE, 4/15). In Chicago, Mike Downey writes under the header, "Olympians Should Speak Their Minds On China." Downey: "You hope they won't shut their eyes, cup their ears and zip their lips" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/15). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler writes it is “only fair to let all athletes going to Beijing speak their minds and protest peacefully if they want. … More power to Miranda, Mendoza and their protesting cohorts. Because to believe sports and politics don’t mix, especially at the Olympic level, is a hopelessly romantic view” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/15). However, in DC, Ryan O’Halloran writes the majority of athletes said that the political protests surrounding the Games are “not their problem” (WASHINGTON TIMES, 4/15). The AP's Aaron Beard wrote, “For some, it’s an unwelcome burden that distracts from lifelong goals. Others figure it’s a responsibility that comes with being an Olympic-caliber athlete.” Wrestler Brad Vering said that he “expects some athletes will feel pressured to speak out.” Vering: “Some athletes will fold like crazy and probably do things on the medal stand” (AP, 4/14).

FREE TO SPEAK: USOC Chief Communications Officer Darryl Seibel said that U.S. athletes are “within their free-speech rights to comment on issues as long as they comply with the laws of the host nation and with Rule 51 of the Olympic charter, which prohibits ‘demonstrations and or political, religious and racial propaganda’ in Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” Seibel: “We won’t be introducing guidelines that are any more restrictive than that. We expect our athletes to compete in a manner that makes our country proud.” Dream For Darfur Dir Jill Savitt said that the group “isn’t asking athletes to boycott the opening ceremony to help bring attention to Darfur, ‘only heads of state, because this is a failure of governments.’” Savitt: “The only thing I would really hope for from athletes is that they’re open-minded about this and understand that’s it’s legitimate to utilize the games to promote peace and international cooperation” (L.A. TIMES, 4/15).

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