2010 Games branding sparks free speech fears
By Allan Dowd
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Civil liberties advocates warned on Wednesday that efforts to protect Olympic branding deals during next year's Winter Games in Vancouver may infringe on free speech.
They say that agreements Vancouver organizers have made with the International Olympic Committee could be used to curb legitimate political protests on issues such as the Games' impact on Vancouver's homeless people and the poor.
The agreements with the IOC, similar to ones that have been used in past Games, are designed to protect Olympic venues from being used for non-Olympic political promotions or "ambush marketing" by companies that have not paid for sponsorship rights.
To prevent the agreements from being used to thwart legitimate protests, the civil liberties groups unveiled plans on Wednesday for "legal observer teams" to patrol areas near competition venues and other events during the two weeks the Winter Games are on in February.
"The biggest concern from our perspective is the idea that for a two-week event, that we can essentially suspend free speech rights for various Canadians in an around venues," said David Eby, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
Eby said he hopes the observer teams "will be bored" with no violations to see.
ORGANIZERS SAY FEARS UNFOUNDED
The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) says it and the IOC respect free speech rights, but that it has had to strike a balance between those rights and the need to protect against commercial infringement. Continued...