Fury over Saltire ban at Olympics 117

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By Martin Couper

SCOTTISH spectators have been banned from cheering on their Olympic heroes with the Saltire flag in Beijing.

The house rules for the forthcoming games state that only flags from countries with a National Olympic Committee will be permitted within stadiums in China.

And because Scottish athletes participate as part of Team Great Britain, only the Union Jack can be flown to support our competitors.

The decision has caused controversy among proud Scottish nationalists who say fans should be able to fly whatever flag they want.

And it means that as crowds gather to cheer on Scots tennis hero Andy Murray, they will be forced to wave a Union Jack.

Jamie Hepburn, Scottish nationalist MSP for Central Scotland, and Convenor of the Cross-Party Group on Human Rights said: “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.

 “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.”

Scotland is well represented in Team GB in Beijing with 31 athletes vying for medals and a further 16 competing in the Paralympics.

Andy Murray, fresh from his Cincinnati Masters victory, will also be taking part in the games along with brother Jamie.

The Murray brothers regularly fly the flag for Scotland during their matches – including badges worn on their kit – but will be prevented from doing so in China under the restrictions.

However, Tennis Scotland said that the Saltire ban will have no effect on the brothers, who they insist are desperate to win gold for Team GB.

A spokeswoman for Tennis Scotland said: “The Olympics, like the Davis Cup, are represented by Great Britain so Andy, Jamie and the other members of the Olympic squad will be playing for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in line with the Olympic regulations.

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

But John Watson, Programme Director for Amnesty International Scotland has blasted the rules, claiming it is further proof of the ongoing censorship in China.

He said: “With so many internal critics silenced, I am not surprised to see the Chinese authorities trying to control everything that happens at Olympic venues. But clamping down on freedom of expression in this way is completely unacceptable.

“We don’t want politics to overshadow the Games, which are a wonderful expression of global humanity and shared values. But the Chinese government promised to improve human rights when they were awarded the Olympics and this promise has been completely broken.”

He is now calling for a relaxation on both the flag rule and other forms of censorship and oppression within China.

He said: “These restrictions on freedom of expression mean that anyone supporting Andy Murray at the tennis must wave a union jack and not a saltire.

“Local athletes winning medals at the Beijing Olympics should be able to do a victory lap with a Saltire if they wish.”

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