Home nations flags banned at Olympics

So it seems that fans won’t be able to fly the saltire at the Olympic Games in China.

This is the relevant ruling on the Chinese Olympic website:

“2. To avoid delays at security and to maintain an orderly flow, please DO NOT bring the following articles to any venue:… flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2 m x 1 m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples.”

As Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland combine into one team, only the Union flag will be allowed into the games.

Obviously this is a Chinese attempt to stop any Tibetan flags flying at the games, but it impinges on the Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans rights to support their own separate nationalities.

The Tibetan flag

Obviously the Chinese are sensitive about the Tibetan situation and their human rights record, but should the British Olympic Association be enforcing this rule too, in relation to the Home Nations flags?

It wasn’t so long ago that skier Alain Baxter was banned from wearing his saltire haircut. Will they ban Andy Murray’s trademark saltire wristbands too?

The Scottish Parliament has a good record of protest on China’s human rights and Tibet.

It has a Tibetan rights group that has cross party support, convened by Liberal Democrat Mike Pringle.

Jack McConnell, as First Minister, raised questions over China’s poor human rights record on his 2004 visit.

The Dalai Lama visited Scotland in 2005 as part of a World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet.

Mike Pringle as convenor of the Tibet group put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament deploring China’s actions:

That the Parliament deplores the Chinese Government’s violent suppression of recent democratic protests by the people of Tibet, which has been controlled by the Chinese Government since a military assault in 1950; commends calls by the Dalai Lama for an international fact-finding mission to be sent to Tibet to investigate the causes of the protests and the actual situation in Tibet under Chinese rule, and reminds China, as host of the 2008 Olympic Games, that it should look to improve human rights and religious freedom in Tibet.

This had cross party support from the majority of backbenchers in the Scottish Parliament.

And when Fiona Hyslop went to China in April this year – a trip supported by the Dalai Lama – promoting Aberdeen University as Education Secretary she wasted no time in letting China know how Scotland feels about its human rights violations.

“Fiona Hyslop did take the first opportunity she had on the first day of her visit to China to raise the Scottish Government’s concerns about human-rights issues in discussion with China’s vice minister of education.”

The Scottish stance is supported by Amnesty International’s Scottish programme director, John Watson. He believes “engagement can provide the opportunity to push for exchange”.

I believe the Scottish Parliament is taking a much firmer stance on this issue than Westminster.

The saltire ban did make me think of fifth columnist George Foulkes again, who recently got hot under the collar about the new train logos.

In 1990 as a Labour backbencher he is quoted in Hansard:

“Whatever one’s view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality.”

Possibly pro-Tibet there, I think.

But later as Overseas Development Minister in 1997 he pretty much backed the Government’s fudged position as to not offend China:

“We believe that we can best assist the people of Tibet through small-scale projects that respond directly to the needs of local communities.”

though he eventually gave this response after questioning:

“The Government are concerned about human rights in the whole of China, including Tibet, and we shall continue to raise our concerns directly with the Government of China, both bilaterally and in international forums.”

When George was Overseas Development Minister it seemed a bit more softly, softly to me.

I guess at best Lord Foulkes position on Tibet is unclear. Certainly he was one of the few backbenchers not to support the Tibet motion in the Scottish Parliament.

As a former Overseas Development Minister at Westminster his name was conspicious by its absence.

Maybe George will be delighted that the saltire will be banned at the Olympics?

Here's a Scottish saltire, George!

In which case, does he similarly support the banning of Tibetan flags?

While I was writing this, I stumbled across this blog which puts the Tibet issue from the Chinese viewpoint:

“Promoting independence of Tibet from China is infringing China’s sovereignty. Tibet is part of China, just like Scotland is part of United Kingdom. If China started supporting the Scottish Separatist movement, I am sure UK will be really unhappy too.

Separatist movement are not well tolerated throughout history, just look at Easter Rising (1916) in Ireland, many civilians were killed, 15 separatist leaders were executed, 3000 political prisoners were put behind bars by the British. Unfortunately, the reality is suppression of separatist movements are equally harsh all over the world.”

There are a few things I could say on this, but the crucial one is the UK is a democracy and Scottish people can vote for independence parties if they want too. The SNP are in Government in Scotland, for instance, and the public await the promised Independence Referendum in 2010.

I don’t see the same freedoms applied to China and the Tibetan people.

Flying our flags is a bare minimum of our freedoms.


6 Responses to Home nations flags banned at Olympics

  1. derekstillieknowslots says:

    The quality of Scottish Nationalist blogs on WordPress (there’s a few of them about!) remains extremely high.

    Excellent points made and well researched.

    I think this is a slightly different problem from the Alain Baxter affair because his hair dye was banned by the British Olympic officials, not the Olympic Games themselves. Team GB targeted this “Political Protest” specifically.

    In this case, it seems Chinese official’s ignorance is to blame more than any anti-Scottish sentiment; perhaps they are trapped between their loathing of small, upstart nations and their strong political-economic relations with Scotland?

    A blanket ban may seem sensible to them, but they have clearly not thought about international sensitivities.


  2. northbritain says:

    Yes. I realise the Alain Baxter affair was a ban by the British Olympic officials. The point I was obviously not making too well was that the same British officials should be standing up for our rights to fly whatever home nation flag we like at the Olympics and not cowtowing to the Chinese Olympic officials.

    And obviously that privilege should also extend to our athletes.

  3. It’s now being suggested that this is an inflexible IOC rule rather than something China has introduced unilaterally. Anyway, here’s a unionist perspective on the situation.

  4. northbritain says:

    Ah yes. The ‘inflexible’ Rule 51 applying to athletes.

    No form of publicity or propaganda, commercial or otherwise, may appear on persons, on sportswear, accessories or, more generally, on any article of clothing or equipment whatsoever worn or used by the athletes or other participants in the Olympic Games, except for the identification . as defined in paragraph 8 below . of the manufacturer of the article or equipment concerned, provided that such identification shall not be marked conspicuously for advertising purposes.

    Or back to flags. Kathy Freeman’s aborginal flag in Sydney. No-one blinked a eyelid.

    In most democratic countries I doubt it’d be an issue.

    The fact that no-one really bothered about it before is evidenced by the fact that the IOC had to send out a letter to participating countries to clarify the position on Rule 51 only a few months ago.


    They just knew that China would use the rule to curb any protests.

    But China’s House Rules apply to spectators not the athletes.


    They were clearly organised by the Beijing Organising Committee not the IOC:


  5. derekstillieknowslots says:

    Sorry, Northbritain, that was the point I was trying to highlight.

    A Chinese/IOC ban is understandable – but British representatives curtailing nationalism and political belief of it’s own athletes is embarrassing at best.

    On the Kathy Freeman aspect , the officials would flip and certain English newspapers would have a field day if I was to whip out a saltire after winning gold in any event at London 2012.


  6. chuck says:

    I’m sure if a member of the US flew a Mississippi flag at the olympics there would be problems as well. Not too long ago the Georgia state flag was banned in a lot of events. It just made southerners furious.
    I thought that the UK would get over their prejudices concerning the Scottish people. It was a tragedy when they banned Gaelic at public schools and bow they did this. Let them fly their flag with pride.

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