SYDNEY, Australia - Australian athletes at the Beijing Olympics will not be allowed to comment on their teammates or opponents, but criticism of China's human rights record won't be stifled.
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said Wednesday that athletes selected to compete at the games will be required to sign a standard team agreement asking that they only comment to the media about their own events, prospects and performances.
AOC media director Mike Tancred said the agreement was only intended to stop Australian competitors from criticizing their teammates or opponents.
"Our athletes in Beijing will be entitled to speak on any issue, including human rights," he said. "They will not be gagged. The AOC issued a statement before Christmas saying our athletes would not be gagged during the 2008 Olympics."
Athens 2004 Olympic swimming finalist Michelle Engelsman, who is hoping to qualify for the Beijing team in next week's swimming trials in Sydney, is a critic of China's human rights record.
She has joined Team Darfur, a worldwide group of athletes raising awareness of China's support for the Sudanese regime responsible for violence in Darfur.
She told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television that the recent Tibetan uprising has added to her concerns.
"To be going into a country that has massive rioting and death going on, that's definitely something to be paying attention to and be concerned," she said.
AOC president John Coates said in an open letter to sports organizations this week that the Olympics was bringing China's issues to the world's attention.
"The fact that the games in Beijing put the spotlight on the country, thereby encouraging discussion on issues of interest to the global community is a positive outcome of bringing the Olympic movement to China," he said.
Coates said the Beijing Organizing Committee executive director Wang Wei had stated that "for the whole society, the Olympic Games will speed up reform and opening up."
"We sincerely hope that will be the case," he said.