Natural Disaster

International legs of Paralympic relay scrapped

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 June, 2008, 12:00am

Games organisers scrapped the international legs of the Paralympics torch relay yesterday - citing the need to focus on Sichuan earthquake-relief efforts.

Stopovers in Hong Kong and in Chengdu, Chongqing, Urumqi and Tianjin have also been abandoned, along with the overseas legs in London, Sochi in Russia and Vancouver - three future Olympic hosts.

The decision affects members of the Hong Kong Paralympics Committee, who were to have carried the torch in the city ahead of the Games in Beijing in September.

Games organising officials played down widespread suspicion the move was designed to prevent a repeat of the public relations disaster that followed chaotic scenes during the Olympic flame's international relay legs. They were dogged by protests over Tibet in London, Paris and San Francisco, and the resulting nationalistic fervour on the mainland also rattled the government.

'The main reason is the devastating earthquake in Sichuan,' Zhang Qiuping , the head of the Paralympics department at the Beijing organisers, Bocog, said. 'We want to focus on the relief effort and reconstruction as well as the preparation work for the Games.'

A notice said disappointed torch-bearers would be invited to take part in the remaining domestic legs.

Chengdu and Chongqing were affected by the May 12 earthquake.

The downsizing of the relay was supported by Jin Jing , the 27-year-old disabled torchbearer made famous for protecting the Olympic torch from pro-Tibet protesters during its chaotic April 17 Paris leg.

'Many of the originally planned relay runs have been cancelled or cut short for the purpose of anti-quake missions,' she said. 'Many torchbearers have lost their chance to pass on Olympic flames. I think the disabled torch-bearers like me can make the same sacrifice.'

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has issued a warning letter to the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, reminding its officials and government representatives not to mix politics with sport during Olympic events.

The reprimand follows a speech made by Tibet Party Secretary Zhang Qingli at the end of last weekend's Olympic torch relay leg in Lhasa , in which he denounced the Dalai Lama. 'We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique,' he told dignitaries at the relay.

IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said, 'The IOC regrets that political statements were made during the closing ceremony of the torch relay in Tibet. We have written to Bocog to remind them of the need to separate sport and politics.'