IOC (International Olympic Committee)

Bigger issues vying for spotlight

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2007, 12:00am

467 days to go

The world's biggest sports convention, SportAccord, was in Beijing this week and gave Bocog a taste of how the Olympics organising machine works once it slips into gear, while also giving the International Olympic Committee a sense of how things are going to be at 8pm on August 8, 2008.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, SportAccord is jointly owned by GAISF, the General Association of International Sports Associations, which represents 100 sports federations; the ASOIF, the Association of Summer Olympic International Sports Federations; and AWOIF, its Winter Olympics counterpart.

One thing everyone is going to have to get used to in the next 15 months is the use of acronyms. There are a bewildering array of different letters and you need to know your NOCs (national Olympic committees) from your Ocogs (organising committees of the Olympic Games).

Most of the delegates attending SportAccord are not really interested in the Beijing Games, they're already thinking further ahead. Some, like those representing the cities of Sochi, Salzburg and Pyeongchang, were more interested in who would be awarded the Winter Games in 2014. Other cities and boroughs were there bidding to be awarded training camps during the London Olympics in 2012. Sports tourism is a massive industry and cities are happy to shell out to lure a big occasion.

However, SportAccord underlined the main challenge facing the IOC and the government in Beijing will be to deal with wider issues around the games, because signs are that politics and sport will go head-to-head to be the biggest story of them all.

As the wheeling and dealing went on in the corridors, delegates marvelled at the clear skies, and were treated to some of the hospitality and sophisticated organisation that Beijing will offer next year.

They were whizzed around the Olympic sites to see the awe-inspiring National Stadium, or 'Bird's Nest', emerging as one of the wonders of the modern world, the 'Water Cube' swimming complex and other sights.While the city's redevelopment was showcased in the spring sunshine, and dope cheats were sent another warning (six Austrian athletes were banned for life over the 2006 Turin Games scandal), the over-riding message was geopolitical.

IOC president Jacques Rogge, and the body's other leaders, were forced to repeat the organisation's long-held mantra it is not a political body.

Perhaps they really believe this is true, but for an apolitical entity they had to respond to some tough political questions. They were asked to comment on threats to boycott the games over China's role in Darfur; to lobby for the release of US activists arrested on the Olympic torch route for waving inflammatory banners about Tibetan independence; approve a route for the torch that has Taiwan up in arms and raised tensions over sovereignty in the Straits of Taiwan. They gulped when asked if athletes would be able to get a lungful of fresh air during the games.

Rogge mostly dodged the tough questions, but did make a sweeping mission statement when he said the games would be a 'force for good which would have a positive, lasting effect on Chinese society'. The IOC is also confident the air will be fine by 2008, once 'contingency plans', involving factory closures, keeping traffic off the streets and sending people on holiday, have taken effect.

Then, to crown the SportAccord meet, came the launch of what must be the world's most politically sensitive flame.

The torch, a red-and-silver tube resembling a traditional Chinese scroll, will cover 135 cities and 137,000 kilometres next year and will go over Everest - the world's tallest peak at 8,850 metres.

Taiwan's Olympic committee issued a furious statement after the relay announcement saying China was involved in 'political machinations aimed at downgrading our status in the IOC' and rejected the route as outlined by Beijing.

'This is an attempt by China to engineer the relay route so Chinese Taipei is included in China's domestic relay route, thereby obviously undermining our sovereign status. We resolutely reject this,' ran the statement.

Bringing the torch to Tibet has already caused controversy after five US citizens, including a Tibetan-American, were detained at Everest base camp protesting Tibetan rights. They unfurled a banner reading, 'One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008', in English, and one in Tibetan and Chinese saying, 'Free Tibet'.

Pyongyang is another politically sensitive point the torch will visit along the route. When North Korea detonated a nuclear device last year it became an international pariah, although tensions in the continent have eased since Kim Jong-il's regime agreed to break down its nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic concessions.

There have been calls in some quarters for a boycott of the games 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.

No one doubts the IOC's abilities to organise the games and for the Chinese government and people to put on an amazing show. What will be interesting is how the IOC and Chinese respond to the broader challenges in the run-up to the games.

Red rover

The Olympic torch is to undergo a 137,000km journey next year

The number of cities the flame is expected to pass through: 135