Games fans, too, must play by the rules

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2008, 12:00am

It is an ironic legacy of the Olympic Games that, despite their lofty ideals of fair competition, they do nothing for personal freedoms in the host country.

Civil libertarians, for example, rage in vain against some measures introduced by host cities to comply with an Olympic charter ban on political or religious controversy. Take these comments by one Peter Wong, who asked whether such rules aimed 'to show the world how successful and harmonious a society we are that we do not have social problems that leave thousands of people homeless ... that we are a successful economy [and] there are no jobless beggars on the streets?' Dr Wong was not talking about Beijing. He is a Chinese-born Australian politician who was one of the few who spoke out in the Australian Parliament against special public-order laws passed for the Sydney 2000 Games that struck at freedom of assembly, movement and speech and the right to protest.

Beijing is no exception in trying to present its best face to the rest of the world. What sets it apart, as we report today, is a code of conduct for spectators at Games venues. Beijing officials point out that they largely duplicate rules for Sydney and Athens in 2004. But after preaching civilised behaviour and good Games manners to Beijingers for years, they have also now put spectators on notice about specific taboos in and around venues, such as nationalistic banners, advocacy of any cause, gambling, drunkenness and streaking. Nothing is being left to chance for China's coming-out party on the world stage.

There will still be critics who lament that being chosen to host the Games has not led to the hoped-for improvement in China's human rights record. But the Olympic movement has long since become a global brand that strives to keep its image from being associated with political controversy. Granted that no one should be allowed to hijack an Olympic event to promote one's pet cause, any limitations to free speech should be justified and proportional to the perceived threat to public order. Hopefully, by sticking to the Olympic 'house rules', Games fans themselves will show that mainlanders can be trusted with greater personal freedoms.