Europe, Australia Oppose Games Boycott

BRDO PRI KRANJU, Slovenia (AP) -- Amid escalating violence in and around Tibet, the message from around the world was clear: "Let the games begin."

European nations and Olympic committees said Monday they opposed a boycott of the Beijing Games over China's handling of the unrest in Tibet. And most everyone else who spoke out, from Russia to the United States to Australia, echoed that approach.

"Under no circumstance will we support the boycott. We are 100 percent unanimous," Patrick Hickey, the head of the European Olympic Committees, told The Associated Press.

The EU sports ministers and Olympic committees said sports should not be linked to such a political issue and that previous Olympic boycotts had limited impact.

"Not one world leader has come out with the suggestion of a boycott and no less a person than the Dalai Lama" is against it, Hickey said. "A boycott is only a punishment of the athletes."

Slovene Sports Minister Milan Zver, who is chairing a meeting of top EU sports officials from the 27 member states and Olympic committees, said it was no different on the government side. "I am against a boycott of the Olympic Games in China," Zver said.

Christiane Hohmann, a spokeswoman for the EU's executive commission, said "such a boycott would not be the appropriate way" to voice concerns of human rights or rights of those in Tibet.

World 50-meter butterfly champion Roland Schoeman, however, supports calls for the IOC to take a stand.

The IOC "should stand up and say, 'The way these people are being treated is not acceptable,'" the South African swimmer said. "Either you put an end to this or else. The 'or else' could be extreme or it could be a set of conditions."

From its Colorado headquarters, the U.S. Olympic Committee reiterated its stance that an American boycott is out of the question.

"Put together a ranking of the worst ideas ever conceived and 'Olympic boycott' would be at the top of that list," USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. "Other than unnecessarily and unfairly punishing athletes, Olympic boycotts accomplish absolutely nothing."

Russia warned against turning the Beijing Olympics into a political game.

"We would like to underscore that efforts to politicize the holding of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China are unacceptable," the government said.

Added Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith: "I very strongly believe that we should not in any way bring the Olympics or call the Olympics into question."

Erica Terpstra, the head of the Dutch Olympic Committee, said it is wrong to burden sports with such problems, and "it really has to be for the politicians."

"There was no call for a boycott whatsoever, even though there is great concern about what happens there," Terpstra added. "And I have an additional concern: 'keep your hands off my athletes.'"

That idea was echoed by Claudia Bokel, head of the athlete's commission of the European Olympic Committees.

"We are very concerned as athletes but we have been working on the qualification for the games for a long time. It is our existence," said Bokel, a fencing silver medalist for Germany. "We, as athletes, think we should have the time to do our sport and not get involved as a tool for politics."

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates contends that a boycott would only harm the athletes.

"It is not the role of the IOC to take the lead in addressing such issues as human rights or political matters, which are most appropriately addressed by governments or concerned organizations," Coates said.

On Monday, Tibet's governor promised leniency to anti-Chinese protesters who turned themselves in before the end of the day, as troops fanned out to quell sympathy protests that have spread to three neighboring provinces.

The fiercest protests against Chinese rule in almost two decades have embarrassed China's communist government and hurt its efforts to have a smooth run-up to the Aug. 8-24 Olympics.

Europe has never questioned the right for the Chinese to stage the games. On Friday, a summit of EU leaders criticized China's response to demonstrations in Tibet but did not threaten a boycott on human rights grounds.

Togay Bayatli, president of the Turkish Olympic Committee, stressed it was up to business leaders and politicians to take the initiative.

"Our countries are doing business there," Bayatli said. "Everybody is going there."

Economic relations between the 27-nation EU and China are moving closer. Bilateral trade doubled between 2000-05 and reached $370 billion in 2006. Europe is China's largest export market and China is Europe's prime source of imports.

Zver has argued that political pressure through sports doesn't work, saying the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games was largely ineffectual at a political level. At the same time, it badly hurt the Olympic movement.

"Sport is tool of dialogue," Zver said.

---

AP National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.


631 SW Commerce Pl. Topeka, Kansas 66615 phone: 785-272-6397 fax: 785-272-1363 email: feedback@wibw.com
Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 16763096 - wibw.com/a?a=16763096
Gray Television, Inc.