British Olympic chiefs have no desire to gag athletes in Beijing

Eds: Moving on general news and sports services.

LONDON (AP) -- The British Olympic Association has "no intention of gagging" its athletes at the Beijing Games.

A day after the BOA said it would require its athletes to sign a new clause in their contracts prohibiting them from making politically sensitive remarks or gestures during the Olympics, the association clarified its stance.

"Clearly (the instructions) had been misinterpreted and we now accept they may have been open to misinterpretation," BOA spokesman Graham Newsom said Monday. "But there is no intention of gagging anyone. We are trying to mirror what it says in the Olympic Charter."

Simon Clegg, the BOA's chief executive, acknowledged that the BOA's Team Members Agreement appeared to go 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," Clegg said.

Newsom said no such gagging order existed. He said the organization had not tried to put a block on free speech and had been under no political pressure from the government.

"The reality is that we have historically had a very strong independent views and we are completely different from government," Newsom said. "We don't take any government funding and we make our own views."

The BOA has sent out instructions to athletes headed for Beijing that they should abide by IOC-backed regulations which state they should not comment on any politically sensitive issues or take part in political, religious or racial propaganda at the Olympic sites and venues.

Newsom said the instructions had been in place for at least 20 years and were sent out to those athletes going to their first Olympics who had not seen them before.

In January, Belgian athletes were told they would be prohibited from raising human rights or other political issues at Olympic venues. Outside the sports venues and Olympic village, however, they will be free to speak their mind.