British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing.
The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest.
The controversial clause has been inserted into athletes' contracts for the first time and forbids them from making any political comment about countries staging the Olympic Games.
It is contained in a 32-page document that will be presented to all those who reach the qualifying standard and are chosen for the team.
From the moment they sign up, the competitors will be effectively gagged from commenting on China's politics, human rights abuses or illegal occupation of Tibet.
Prince Charles has already let it be known that he will not be going to China, even if he is invited by Games organisers. His views on the Communist dictatorship are well known, after this newspaper revealed how he described China's leaders as
“appalling old waxworks” in a journal written after he attended the handover of Hong Kong. The Prince is also a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader.
Yesterday the British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that any athlete who refuses to sign the agreements will not be allowed to travel to Beijing. Should a competitor agree to the clause but then speak their mind about
China, they will be put on the next plane home.
The clause, in section 4 of the contract, simply states: [Athletes] are not to comment on any politically sensitive issues. It then refers competitors to Section 51 of the International Olympic Committee charter, which provides for no
kind of demonstration, or political, religious or racial propaganda in the Olympic sites, venues or other areas.
The BOA took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.
To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games.
The decision to ban UK competitors at this year's Games in Beijing from commenting on "politically sensitive issues" triggered protests from human rights groups.
Former sports minister David Mellor said the gagging clause amounted to "sucking up to dictators".
In the face of such criticism, the British Olympic Association agreed to look again at the wording of the contract handed out to all prospective competitors.
It had previously demanded that athletes not make political comments or engage in "political propaganda" at Olympic venues.
Mellor called the contract a timely wake-up call for all of us who thought sucking up to dictators was something we had left behind in the Thirties.
Tory culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt accused the British Olympic Association of being "heavy-handed". He added: "I think that given America, Canada and Australia are explicitly saying that their athletes can say what they want
when they go to Beijing, I think it is inappropriate to put this restriction on our athletes.
Amnesty International campaigns director Tim Hancock said: People in China can't speak out about human rights without fear of reprisals - people in Britain can.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the move would be effectively "kowtowing" to China's authoritarian regime: We have to be very clear with the Chinese - they now play a significant role in the world economy and international affairs.
That brings certain domestic responsibilities with it and I think for us to sort of gag ourselves is a real abdication of our moral responsibility.
British Olympic Association chief executive Simon Clegg said: I accept that the interpretation of one part of the draft BOA's Team-Members Agreement appears to have gone beyond the provision of the Olympic Charter. This is not our intention
nor is it our desire to restrict athletes' freedom of speech and the final agreement will reflect this.