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Public figures worldwide voice support for politics-free Olympics

2008-04-30 00:00

The shocking images of protesters trying to wrest away or extinguish the Beijing Olympic torch during its world relay have prompted many people, both in China and other parts of the world, to voice their opposition of the "politicization" of the Games.

For many Chinese, the sight of young wheel-chair fencer Jin Jing wrestling with a protestor for possession of the torch on April 7 epitomized the problems of mixing politics with sport, while prominent figures abroad have since added their voices to the chorus of a politics-free Olympics.

The flame has experienced changed routes and shortened journeys for being dogged by Tibetan separatists and their supporters at many previous stops, notably London and Paris.

However, Steve Redgrave, Britain's five-time Olympic rowing gold medalist, said in London during the fourth leg of the torch relay on April 6 that athletes should not be the target of political point scoring.

Explaining in an article published in the Guardian why he would carry the torch in London, Redgrave said, "The torch relay gives the opportunity for people from all walks of life to touch the Olympics, to feel the dream. The games are an experience like no other, but only a few people get to go and experience their magic.

"People shouldn't use athletes who have trained hard to make political points. If the issues are strong enough that the nation and government want to take a stand together against another country, sports people should stand with that, but they should not be misused to make a point.

"Athletes are trying to come away an Olympic champion. To win a medal at Beijing will make you an Olympic champion and we should encourage athletes to strive for that."

Members of the public expressed dismay at attempts to link the Olympic Games with politics in San Francisco. Shirley Olivo, a 75-year-old San Francisco native and grandmother of a special Olympian, said carrying the torch and the Olympics shouldn't really be about politics.

Officials also called for an end to using the Olympics for political purposes. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge on April 8 condemned violent protests that target the Beijing Olympic torch relay, saying violence was by no means acceptable.

An Olympic boycott could only worsen human rights in China, Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said on April 6.

"I am totally convinced that if there was a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games, it would contribute nothing to the protection of human rights, quite the contrary," De Gucht said on Belgian television.

Sports and politics should respect each other and have their own autonomy, said Lord Colin Moynihan, chairman of the British Olympic Association, on April 9.

"I strongly oppose a sporting boycott because it won't achieve anything," said Lord Moynihan, who was in Beijing for the 16th assembly of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC).

"A sporting boycott simply doesn't work and can only hurt athletes, who are not supposed to solve any political problem," he said.

"As long as the interest of the athletes is put first, then the Games will be a great success.

"Meanwhile, I strongly oppose any assault or attack to the Olympic torch," Moynihan said.

Many countries are vigilant against attempts to disrupt the torch relay, tightening security to ensure the relay's success. Prior to the Australian leg of the torch relay, which took place on April 24 and proceeded quite smoothly, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said the local government had made everything ready to ensure the safety of the Olympic torch.

"The safety and security of torchbearers and spectators of the torch relay are of the utmost importance, to myself and the ACT government," Stanhope said.

"Australians and Tibetans had the right to protest, but the protests should be held in a peaceful way, and the ACT government would not allow any one to undermine the relay."

To make sure the torch relay goes smoothly and safely, the police and the ACT government liaised "closely with the Federal Government, the Chinese Embassy, the Beijing Organizing Committee of Olympic Games (BOCOG) and Australian Olympic Committee to ensure all stakeholders are kept fully informed of recent developments".

The torch began its 137,000-kilometer (85,000 miles) worldwide journey from Beijing on April 1, weaving its way across the globe on a 21-stop, six-continent journey before returning to the Chinese mainland on May 4. It will continue to tour the mainland till the beginning of the Aug. 8-24 games in Beijing.

Canadian pop star Celine Dion voiced her support for the Beijing Olympic Games on April 12, saying she was "definitely against boycotting."

She spoke at a press conference in Beijing after her concert in Shanghai to show her support for the Games. "When you talk about the Olympics, you don't say politics. We talk about power. We talk about love. And we talk about dreams."


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