IOC boss sidesteps political questions
The Beijing Games would be a 'force for good which will have a lasting effect', IOC president Jacques Rogge said yesterday, as he swerved questions about human rights issues and boycott threats.
Rogge underlined the IOC's apolitical nature at SportAccord, the world's biggest sports convention, which opened in Beijing yesterday.
'We believe the Olympic Games will have a positive, lasting effect on Chinese society and this has been recognised by our Chinese friends and their partners,' Rogge said.
His IOC panel was grilled about China's perceived inaction on genocide in Darfur, and the detention of four US citizens demonstrating for a free Tibet and against the Beijing Olympics at base camp on Mount Everest.
It was a clear indication of how politics and sport will compete in the run-up to the games next August.
There have been calls in some quarters for an Olympic boycott over China's support of the Sudanese government that is said to be backing groups committing wide-scale killings in the Darfur region. China supplies arms to Sudan and also has huge oil investments in the country, and rights groups say its involvement is complicating efforts to stop the civil war and the atrocities.
Rogge left the issue to Hein Verbruggen, head of the IOC co-ordination commission overseeing the games. Verbruggen said: 'When it comes to Darfur, we, as the IOC, have always taken the position these are political issues and we are not a political operation or body. We are not in a position to give instructions to governments to tell them how to behave.'
In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, actress Mia Farrow singled out film director Steven Spielberg, who is advising Beijing on the opening ceremony, and wrote: 'Is Mr Spielberg aware China is bankrolling Darfur's genocide? Does [he] really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games?'
Four days later, Spielberg sent a letter to President Hu Jintao, condemning the killings in Darfur and asking the central government to use its influence to help resolve the situation. Verbruggen said appeals for boycotts were an old issue. 'The games are a very big thing and in the '70s and '80s we had a lot of these issues,' he said.
He again underlined the apolitical nature of the IOC when he was pressed further to react to the detention of the four US citizens - including a Tibetan-American - at Everest Base Camp.
They unfurled a banner reading, 'One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008', in English, and one in Tibetan and Chinese saying, 'Free Tibet', according to Students for a Free Tibet.
'One World, One Dream' is the motto for the 2008 Games.
Asked about Beijing's pollution woes, the IOC leadership said it was confident Beijing would have clear skies. 'There are additional issues - no one could have foreseen double-digit economic growth every year. But we are very confident the air quality will be up to standard to allow athletes to perform,' Verbruggen said.
Premier Wen Jiabao, in his inaugural addresses at the SportAccord, said China would fulfil its commitment to the games. 'We'll uphold the spirit of 'One World, One Dream' and provide comprehensive services for all the clients, including athletes, officials, journalists and spectators under international practice,' he said.