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Athletes travelling to next month's Beijing Olympics were warned on Tuesday about speaking up on human rights issues while in China for their own safety by speakers at a seminar hosted by Human Rights Watch.
Rights groups have long criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for awarding the Games to China, citing the treatment by the Chinese government of the Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups, which the United States has deemed genocide.China denies the allegations of human rights abuses.
"There's really not much protection that we believe is going to be afforded to athletes," Rob Koehler, the director general of the Global Athlete group, said in the seminar.
"So we're advising athletes not to speak up. We want them to compete and use their voice when they get home."
Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter states that "no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."
However, Noah Hoffman, a cross-country skier who represented the U.S. at the 2014 and 2018 Winter Games, said athletes should feel free to speak out on issues that matter to them, no matter what the venue.
"There should be blanket protection for any athletes that speak up at any time about issues of human rights," he said.