Gag order puts all to shame

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


It's up to you to choose to speak out, or to remain silent. And in the case of Hong Kong cycling coach Shen Jinkang, he has opted to listen to his masters, the Hong Kong Cycling Association, which has told him not to talk to the media. Why has he been muzzled? Because some members of the HKCA executive committee felt the mainlander was too liberal and open with his views. Apparently he has trodden on some toes and in a childish act of reprisal he has been told to button his lip.

So as the last and ninth stage of the Tour of Qinghai Lake ends today, an event which contributes qualifying points for local riders in their quest for a place at the London Olympics, a shackled Shen is reduced to sending out results after each leg, and unable to comment on his riders or their performances.

Let's hope this is just an aberration and that commonsense prevails soon. But in this day when free speech is widely accepted and indeed is the right of an individual, to be gagged takes the cake. What are the gentlemen of the HKCA executive thinking? Even though the man on the street still has no right yet to elect his leaders, this is no dictatorship. The rule of law still prevails and we have recourse to a judicial system enshrined in the best British traditions if we have need of it.

The heart and soul of any free society is the right to say what you want without fear of being spirited away in the middle of the night by jack-booted thugs dressed in uniforms of the state. To find a few individuals resorting to such tactics as ordering a coach of a national team to silence is unpardonable.

Shen, who last week was awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star for his services to cycling, is originally from the mainland. He has been part of the coaching system at the Hong Kong Sports Institute for more than a decade, but still has to listen to the association, which is the governing body of the sport. His salary is paid by the elite academy in Sha Tin and, if he wanted, he could have told the HKCA to get on their bikes.

But being a person who does not want to rock the boat, and realising that a confrontational attitude might have caused friction between the HKCA and the HKSI, he has opted for the path of least resistance and listened to his overlords further up the chain.

When asked why he chose to do this, Shen replied by e-mail: 'I cannot comment on my riders, whether it is about their performance in the tour or their current situations. I can only send out the results when the race finishes. This is the instruction of the Hong Kong Cycling Association.'

Shame on the HKCA for taking this rather draconian approach and shame also on Shen for kowtowing to their demands. In this week which celebrated the independence of the United States, it is perhaps apt to quote Thomas Jefferson, who said: 'All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.'

I'm not suggesting the HKCA hierarchy are a tyrannical bunch, but you get the idea. We have to speak out when the need arises. A great example is former Sri Lanka cricket team captain Kumar Sangakkara. In delivering the MCC Spirit of Cricket Lecture at Lord's last Monday, he slammed his country's cricket administrators as 'corrupt' and blamed 'partisan cronies' for the problems that bedevil the administration at Sri Lanka Cricket.

In an hour-long speech - Sangakkara was the first active cricketer to be given the honour - which ended in a standing ovation, he not only charted the unique course of the game in Sri Lanka, but called on Sri Lanka authorities to root out corruption within the game.

He related how the game had provided relief to the people during the dark days of terrorism that blighted the country for more than three decades and said it could now play a huge role in promoting reconciliation between the communities.

'Cricket can and should remain a guiding force for good within society, providing entertainment and fun, but also an example of how we should approach our lives,' Sangakkara said, reminding his audience that sport can be just more than the pursuit of success.

It was a courageous speech. There are fears now that Sangakkara will face retribution, and any dip in form would see him swiftly axed from the team. Yet, he was brave and audacious to hold true to his conscience. It would have been easy for him to talk on any number of less contentious issues but he chose to use that platform to send a message out to the people in charge of the game in Sri Lanka that it is not about self-promotion and individual egos.

We can all take a lesson from him that when the hour arrives, you have to make your case.