China Saltire ban is going to make Scots Olympic stars really cross

WHEN Scots Olympic hopefuls such as Chris Hoy and the Murray brothers step out in Beijing to represent Britain in the Olympic Games, they might have expected a sea of Saltires among the cheering crowds.

However, it emerged yesterday a code of conduct for spectators laid down by the organising committee outlaws flags other than those of Olympic members. And although the UK is a member country, Scotland is not one in its own right.

The ban, part of the IOC's own rulebook, is often overlooked, most famously when Cathy Freeman, the Australian 400m runner, celebrated gold in Sydney by running a lap of honour with an Aboriginal flag.

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This year, however, China is concerned about protests from supporters of Tibet who want to see an end to Chinese oppression.

The Free Tibet movement has dogged the run-up to the Games, most notably with huge protests in London, Paris and North America during the world tour of the Olympic flame.

Now Nationalist MSP Jamie Hepburn is writing to the International Olympic Committee and the British Olympic Association, urging them to challenge the rule – which would also ban English, Welsh and Northern Irish fans from waving their countries' national flags.

"Athletes from across Scotland and the rest of the UK will be taking part in the Beijing Olympics, and fans should be allowed to show their support by waving the national flag of their choice," said Mr Hepburn.

"With participants like Andy Murray often wearing Saltires on their kit as a symbol of national pride, it will be a shame if fans are not able to echo that by waving Saltires from the stands.

"I will be writing to the British Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee urging them to challenge this ruling."

He said implementation of the rule to help China's aims in stopping free speech in Tibet was also against the Olympic spirit.

"China's crackdown on any show of support for Tibet – including the flying of flags – is out of keeping with the Olympic spirit and will raise many concerns as to China's commitment to improve free speech and expression in the run-up to the Games," he said.

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"That it will have this unfortunate side-effect for anyone wanting to fly a Saltire or the English, Welsh or Northern Irish flag may focus people's minds on the need for further dialogue between China and Tibet."

Despite the outcry, the British Olympic Association said there was nothing it could do to remove the ban.

A spokeswoman said: "It is rule 51 of the IOC and we have to abide by that. I can't comment on how well the rule has been policed in the past, but it has always existed."

The IOC was unavailable for comment last night.

The organising committee guidelines state that spectators should not bring the following to any events: "Flags of non-members of the Olympics or Paralympics; flags or banners larger than 2m x 1m; flagpoles; any banners, slogans, fliers, brochures or samples."

A spokeswoman for Tennis Scotland insisted the ban would have no effect on the Murray brothers' performance, because they are determined to win gold for Team GB.

She said: "Andy, Jamie and the other members of the Olympic squad will be playing for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"The fact Andy is playing for Great Britain in no way diminishes the pride fellow Scots will feel watching Andy play, and his fans all over the world will continue to support him all the way."

Despite the latest row and disputes over Tibet, a poll to mark the start of the Beijing Olympics has found more Britons see China as an ally than as a threat. Almost half (46 per cent) of those who took part in the survey said they believed China was an ally. Only a third (33 per cent) said it was a threat.


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THE row over flags has been provoked by China's attempts to stop the Free Tibet campaign using the Olympic Games to further its cause.

The world tour of the Olympic torch descended into farce as protesters used it to get their message over, particularly in London, North America and Paris where the event was stopped. The Tibet leg of the torch was cancelled and even at the start in Greece a protester managed to disrupt the official lighting ceremony.

The last thing the Chinese government wants is a stadium full of Tibetan flags. The Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1951 forcing its ruler the Dalai Lama to go into exile.

Since then the Communist government in Beijing has tried to integrate Tibet into China. There have been calls for the Chinese government to have talks with the Dalai Lama, but they have been ignored.