Olympic Official Vows to Continue Torch relay
BEIJING — Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said Thursday that the anti-Chinese protests that have dogged the Olympic torch relay had become a “crisis” for the organization but insisted that the skirmishes, some of them violent, would not cut short the torch’s 21-nation tour leading up to the Beijing games in August.
“There is no scenario of interrupting or bringing the torch back to Beijing,” he said.
Speaking before a two-day meeting of the IOC’s executive board, Mr. Rogge condemned the protesters who have hounded torch bearers in Paris, London and San Francisco, but he also called on the Chinese authorities to honor their pledges to improve human rights and to give foreign journalists unfettered access to all parts of the country, including Tibet.
“We will do our best to have this be realized,” he said of a recent Chinese regulation that guarantees reporters the right to travel to all regions of China, including Tibet, where access has been restricted since the outbreak of violence last month.
During a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Rogge said he had met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for an hour but he would not reveal details of their conversation.
In the past, Mr. Rogge has avoided criticizing China, saying that pressuring the government on Tibet and other human rights issues was likely to backfire.
“China will close itself off from the rest of the world, which, don’t forget, it has done for some 2,000 years,” he said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday in his native Belgium.
Chinese officials, reacting to Mr. Rogge’s suggestion that the authorities were not living up to their end of the bargain, said the committee should avoid matters regarding the country’s governance.
“I believe IOC officials support the Beijing Olympics and adherence to the Olympic charter of not bringing in any irrelevant political factors,” Jiang Yu, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, told reporters.
Olympic committee members have been taken aback by the scope and ferocity of the protests, which are marring what has traditionally been a festive event involving 20,000 torch bearers.
Although the protests in San Francisco were not as violent or disruptive as in London and Paris, the torch’s sole North American visit was a disappointment to thousands of spectators after the relay route was changed at the last minute to avoid the kind of clashes between protesters and the police that marked earlier ceremonies.
After officials canceled the planned closing ceremony at the San Francisco waterfront on Wednesday and moved it to another location, the Olympic flame was taken aboard an airplane bound for Argentina, the next stop on its worldwide tour.
The committee members who gathered at a hotel in downtown Beijing offered harsh words for demonstrators who have used the relay to publicize issues ranging from Tibetan religious freedom to environmental concerns. Gunilla Lindberg, vice president of the IOC, likened some of the more vociferous protesters to terrorists and said they had emboldened committee members to keep the relay going.
“We will never give into violence,” she said. “These are not the friendly demonstrators for a free Tibet but professional demonstrators, the ones who show up at G8 conferences to be seen and fight.”
Denis Oswald, an IOC member from Switzerland, said those who think that interrupting the torch relay, or the games themselves, might push China to improve its human rights record were wrongheaded and naïve. He noted that it took Europe several centuries to become truly democratic and it was unwise to expect China to do the same in a few years.
“We have to give them time and as long as they’re moving in the right direction, we should be patient,” he said. He added that those who disrupt the relay “do not respect the freedom of people who want to enjoy it.”
Despite the trouble surrounding the torch relay, Mr. Rogge said he expected the Olympics to proceed without a hitch. He cited the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 and boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984 as far more disruptive and said he hoped the public would soon focus on the essence of the Olympics: athletic competition and world unity.
“It is a crisis, there is no doubt about that but the IOC has weathered many bigger storms,” he said.