IOC boss refuses to apologise over blocked websites

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 2008, 12:00am

Games body not to blame: Rogge

The president of the International Olympic Committee last night refused to apologise for misleading the international media over their freedom to access the internet during the Olympics.

At his first press conference of the 2008 Beijing Games, Jacques Rogge rejected accusations that the IOC had struck a deal with the Chinese authorities to keep a host of websites blocked.

'I am not going to make an apology for something that the IOC is not responsible for,' Dr Rogge said. 'We are not running the internet in China, the Chinese authorities [do].

'There was no deal whatsoever at any time between IOC levels and the organisers to agree [to restrictions]. The IOC is in favour of the broadest availability of the internet for the media. That is the bottom line.'

Dr Rogge is among the senior IOC officials who have repeatedly told the media there would be unfettered internet access at Olympic venues.

The chairman of the IOC's press commission, Kevan Gosper, apologised on Wednesday for misleading the media after journalists covering the August 8-24 Games discovered access to a range of websites was barred at the Olympic media centre.

Dr Rogge admitted: 'The conditions you were working in on Tuesday were not good.'

He said he had instructed co-ordinating chairman Hein Verbruggen and the executive Games director Gilbert Felli to take up complaints with the Chinese authorities, and some of the blocks had been lifted in an 'unprecedented' move.

Beijing has since unblocked a number of sites, including that of Amnesty International, but many remain inaccessible, including those by and about dissidents or which cover issues such as Tibet freedom or the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The censorship was widely seen as another public relations blunder for Games organisers and the Chinese government - and suggested a damaging communication breakdown within the IOC.

Dr Rogge said IOC members were 'idealists' and admitted such idealism could lead to some 'naivety' and a belief that the IOC could secure the same media freedoms seen at previous Games.

Earlier, Mr Gosper confirmed that the IOC and the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games had set up a working group to examine which remaining censored websites can be unblocked.

Dr Rogge also said he would investigate the plight of Ge Yifei , a retired doctor from Suzhou who travelled to the capital city on Friday to apply to stage a demonstration in a designated Games protest zone over a land dispute.

As the South China Morning Post reported yesterday, Dr Ge was representing more than 100 property owners from Suzhou. She was briefly detained and then sent home when she tried to submit her application to protest to the city's public security bureau.

'We will look into [this] for sure, and at the next briefing I will have more news,' he said.

Dr Rogge said the Beijing Games were not about the rise of China within the Olympic movement, but about the 'awakening of Asia' as a sporting force, citing the successes of Japan and South Korea at recent Olympics.

He said he had 'no regrets' over the vote seven years ago by IOC members to award the 2008 Games to China.