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  • Op Ed : IOC Battles "Misquote" on Human Rights


    Speaking in Valencia, Rogge says the IOC cannot become involved in political issues within a country that do not affect the conduct of the Olympic Games.
    (ATR) Regardless of his frustration, IOC President Jacques Rogge probably will have to explain the IOC position on human rights in China at least 100 more times before the Games open August 8 next year.

    Our reporter on the scene in Valencia at the European Olympic Committees general assembly says Rogge sounded a bit exasperated at having to review the IOC position in China once again in a speech at the opening of the meeting Friday.

    This latest explanation follows comments this week from one of IOC’s senior members, Pal Schmitt of Hungary, who also sits as a member of the European Parliament.

    "We can't just close our ears to what's happening. We did it for the apartheid regime, so let's do it again," said Schmitt at a hearing in Brussels of the European Parliament Human Rights Subcommittee.

    Rogge insists Schmitt has been misquoted but that he’s not spoken to him either – and Schmitt has not been available for comment to Around the Rings.

    But the comments were caught on the record in Brussels. That would make Schmitt the first of the 114 members of the IOC to actually suggest there may be something more for the IOC to do about China and human rights.

    He’s not calling for a boycott or punitive action for Beijing -- just the ability to raise issues “that might be inconvenient”.

    Officially, the IOC has maintained a distance from human rights controversies in China. Speaking in Valencia, Rogge says the IOC cannot become involved in political issues within a country that do not affect the conduct of the Olympic Games.

    “Let me explain the position of the IOC once again. The IOC is not a political but a sports organization,” said the IOC President.

    The IOC has not been shy about other concerns for Beijing, such as air pollution, which could affect the performance of athletes in outdoor events (not to mention the health of spectators or the gloomy image of the Beijing Olympics that such a pall will create). It’s the first time the IOC has taken such a strong stance on environmental factors for the Games.

    The battle against apartheid waged a generation ago was a human rights campaign the IOC could not avoid. The racial laws of South Africa prevented black athletes from participating in the Olympic Games, in direct contravention of the Olympic Charter.

    Until Chinese athletes become ensnared in some controversy that keeps them from the Games, don’t look for Rogge to veer from IOC canon, although we get the feeling that Rogge might want to say more – but can’t.

    “I am glad to say that the Games are a force for the good. The Games open up China to the eyes of the world and China is changing,” he said in Valencia.

    So far, there’s been no official rebuke of Schmitt from Lausanne and the IOC president did not mention his colleague in the Valencia speech.

    Given the general timidity of IOC members to even speak out on Olympic issues, it is a change of pace to hear Schmitt step forward on vexing issues such as human rights in China.

    Schmitt, from a country where human rights were trampled by a Soviet invasion in 1956, has colleagues on the IOC from nations where repression of freedom was a way of life – and for some it still may be.

    As the first from the IOC to speak out, maybe Schmitt has opened a door for others to follow.

    Op Ed is a weekly column of opinion and ideas from Around the Rings founder and editor-in-chief Ed Hula. Comments, as well as guest columns are welcomed: