By Richard Spencer in Beijing
Simon Clegg, the British Olympic Association chief executive, says the organisation is apolitical
Britain's Olympic team will resist any attempt to boycott or join in political protests at next year's Games in Beijing, its head warns in a combative interview today.
Simon Clegg, chief executive of the British Olympic Association, said he would not succumb to pressure from human rights groups or politicians over participation in what promises to be the most controversial Games for two decades.
He added that any member of the team who made a public protest in Beijing, for example over human rights or in favour of a free Tibet, risked being thrown off the squad.
"We are an apolitical organisation," he said in an interview in Beijing with The Daily Telegraph. "We live in a free society, and groups are free to express their views and write to us. They will get a polite response making it very clear that our focus in on performance."
Celebrations in Beijing to mark the one-year countdown to the Games were accompanied by a series of protests over issues ranging from China's support for the government of Sudan, accused of genocide in Darfur, to its restrictions on freedom of speech.
Eight Free Tibet Campaign protesters, including two Britons, were detained and then deported after six of them abseiled off the Great Wall carrying a protest banner.
A paramilitary police officer gestures towards
a photographer in Tiananmen Square
Mr Clegg was speaking as Edward McMillan-Scott, former leader of the Tories' Euro-MEPs and vice-president of the European parliament, launched a campaign demanding Gordon Brown, the prime minister, consider shunning the Beijing Games.
"There is continuing evidence of persecution, and even genocide, in China," he said. "The civilised world must seriously consider shunning China - and using the Beijing Olympics to send the clear message that such abuses of human rights are not acceptable.
"The debate must take place - whether the countries of the European Union are present at the Beijing Olympics or whether they stay away."
But Mr Clegg recalled that in 1980 the British Olympic team had insisted on taking part in the Moscow Olympics despite a decision by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher in favour of a boycott over the occupation of Afghanistan.
"Mrs Thatcher announced that she had decided not to send a team to the Moscow Games," he said. "But the BOA is one of the few such bodies that is independent of government in the whole world. We politely reminded the prime minister that it wasn't her decision."
There was huge controversy over the team's insistence on taking part, but the Games made a star of Sebastian Coe, winner of the men's 1500 metres, who is now head of the organising committee for the London 2012 Games.
Mr Clegg warned that athletes who wanted to make their own protest over an issue such as Tibet or human rights at the Games could lose their place instantly under the terms of the 32-page contract all members of the team are required to sign.
He added that most would not want to lose their focus on sport. "For the vast majority of the athletes competing at the Olympic Games is probably the highlight of their careers, if not their entire lives," he said.
His threat has a precedent. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who won gold and bronze in the 200 metres at the Mexico Games in 1968 made a Black Power salute when receiving their medals and were kicked off the American squad.
But Amnesty International, which earlier this week released a report condemning China's human rights record in advance of the Games countdown, said it was Beijing, not groups like Amnesty, that had brought the issue into the Games.
"Human rights are not a political issue - it's about basic human principles," a spokesman said. "China brought human rights and the Olympics together, by promising to use the Olympics to promote human rights - and they haven't."
Chinese activists are also demanding the country change the face it presents to the world for the Games. A homegrown group, China Human Rights Defenders published an open letter signed by 47 of the country's best-known dissidents, writers and lawyers demanding China free political prisoners, grant union and media rights, and pay proper compensation to Beijing residents evicted to make way for Olympic redevelopment.
"We feel disappointment and doubt as we witness the continuing systematic denial of the human rights of our fellow citizens even while - and sometimes because - Olympic preparations are moving forward," the letter said.
Liu Xiaobo, a signatory who took part in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and served five years in prison in the 1990s, said he was prepared to take the risk of standing up for human rights on his own, but added: "Before the Olympics start in Beijing, I'm sure atheletes from foreign countries will have the same wish that China's human rights conditions improve."
The Chinese government has repeatedly demanded that foreign groups "not politicise the Games".