POSTED: February 24th 2016

NEIL WILSON: No teddys on the Olympic podium, please

© Bigstock
© Bigstock

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Does any Olympic athlete realise that when they win a medal in Rio they cannot take their favourite teddy with them to the rostrum? Or their mobile phone? Or even their national flag?

Those are the orders of the International Olympic Committee, a part of its enormous rule-book called the Olympic Charter that covers everything that might in any way conflict with the purity of the occasion.

You could be excused for thinking in the last few days that if George Orwell wrote a novel now called 2016 it would not be Great Britain re-named as the authoritarian Airship One but the International Olympic Committee. Or the world's national Olympic committees.

Social media has been stirred this month by the flexing of apparent authoritarianism within the Olympic movement. Lots of it.

The Times of London claimed an exclusive revelation this week when it headlined a report that the BOA, Great Britain's national Olympic committee, was tightening rules on athletes' contracts. In Rio, athletes' personal sponsors would not be allowed to wish them luck in tweets to prevent ambush marketing of official commercial partners.

In truth it is not new. The athlete contracts were tightened first for 2012, and after lobbying of the IOC by athletes' groups have been loosened for 2016. Long-standing sponsors of athletes can apply to a national Olympic committee for permission to continue their association during the Games period.

But still many may not realise that to compete in the Games an athlete must sign a legally-binding contract setting out do's and don't's and threatening them with disqualification for any transgressions. And not just doping and cheating but "plush toys".

The Australian Olympic Committee has gone a step beyond the Charter. It has banned its athletes from free movement. They cannot visit favelas, Rio's crime-ridden slums. That may be sensible advice but they have made it a strict order.

Is that even legal under any democratic country's laws? You would not have thought so.

Then there is the IOC itself. It is "recommending" to international federations that they seek a change in the Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling against gender testing. Yes, they want them to argue against a ruling of a court set up by the IOC itself as sport's final arbiter.

The IOC wants the re-introduction of gender testing of those women whose bodies naturally produce excessive testosterone that CAS ruled last year was illegal.  Bruce Kidd, an academic who, as an Olympic athlete was elected to Canada's Sporting Hall of Fame, wrote to the IOC protesting its stance this month as "insensitive and harmful".

It may also be said to be against the European convention on Human Rights to which the IOC as Swiss residents are bound.

Some critics believe even that the rights the IOC demands for itself of intruding on an athlete's personal space, even their homes, to take a blood or urine sample tramples their rights of privacy.

If sport is to establish a even playing field for non-doping athletes, it is hard to see a way around that but the belief of the IOC in its own and its national affiliates' omnipotence is worrisome.

Sport should be fun and games, nothing more. Stepping on its players' personal freedoms should not be done lightly.  

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics

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