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    Tibet Unrest Will Not Change Route of Torch Relay

    Plans to take the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay into Tibet and to the top of Mount Everest remain unchanged despite violent protests in Lhasa, according to a senior BOCOG official.
    “We firmly believe that the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region will be able ensure the stability of Lhasa and Tibet and also be able to ensure the smooth going of the torch relay in Tibet,” says BOCOG EVP Xiaoyu Jiang. (Getty Images)  

    Beijing 2008 executive vice president Xiaoyu Jiang says the ascent to the top of Mount Everest will be a highlight of the Torch Relay, describing it as “a great feat in Olympic history”.

    “The Tibet leg of the torch relay will proceed as scheduled," Jiang told a March 19 news conference in Beijing.

    Anti-government riots in the Tibet capital of Lhasa in the last week and a subsequent crackdown by Chinese authorities has led to calls by Tibetan activist groups to stop the relay from going through the region.

    The government says the riots have killed 16, but a spokesman for Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says the figure is closer to 100.

    Jiang says climbers will take the Olympic flame to Everest's 8,850-meter summit on a day with favorable weather conditions in May and that police and authorities in the area will provide security.

    China is already denying mountaineers permission to climb the Tibetan side of Mount Everest in what is believed to be a reflection of government concern that activists may try to disrupt Torch Relay plans.

    Activists have in the past unfurled banners at the Everest base camp and the Great Wall of China calling for Tibet's independence.

    Meanwhile, Jiang provided details of the massive logistical operation taking place in what is the longest and biggest Olympics Torch Relay yet.

    On March 24, a six-day relay in Greece will follow the lighting ceremony in Olympia, before a handover ceremony in Athens on March 30. The following day the flame arrives in Beijing before embarking on its route outside mainland China.

    Over 33 days, it will travel through 19 cities and Hong Kong and Macao with a chartered Air China plane to be used to transport the flame and official Torch Relay team over the 97,000 km route, which will involve more than 2,000 participants.

    The flame arrives in the city of Sanya in Hainan Province on May 3 and from the following day onwards will travel through 113 cities and areas in 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.

    The flame returns to Beijing on August 6, where a three-day relay will commence, culminating in the lighting of the cauldron in the main stadium during the Aug. 8 Opening Ceremony.

    The relay within mainland China will last 97 days with over 19,000 torchbearers, covering more than 40,000 km.

    Australian Olympic Committee Rejects TV Report on Athlete Gagging

    Australian athletes at the Beijing Olympics will be able to speak openly about human rights issues in China such as the unrest in Tibet, the Australian Olympic Committee says.

    The AOC says its athletes competing at the Games will need to sign a standard team agreement, part of which provides that any media comments be confined to their own events, prospects and performances.

    But AOC media director Mike Tancred says the provision is intended to stop Australian competitors criticizing teammates or opponents and athletes will be entitled to speak on any issue, including human rights.

    “The AOC issued a statement before Christmas saying our athletes would not be gagged during the 2008 Olympics,” he says.

    Tancred has been forced to clarify the AOC position on what athletes are allowed to say to the media, after a report this week on the Lateline program of Australian public broadcaster, ABC TV.
    Tancred says the report states that Australian athletes making political comments in Beijing will be sent home.

    “This is incorrect,” Tancred says.

    “The Australian Olympic Team has a set of values called ASPIRE. The E in ASPIRE stands for Express Yourself. Our athletes in Beijing will have a point of view and will be free to express that point of view.”

    He adds that athletes will not require permission to speak on human rights or any other issue.
    “For an athlete to be sent home from the Games, he or she would need to commit a serious doping offence or a serious criminal offence,” he says.

    Australian Olympian Michelle Engelsman is a Darfur activist, but also says she does not want politics to overshadow the Games. (Getty Images)  
    2004 Olympic swimming finalist Michelle Engelsman, who hopes to qualify for the Beijing team in swimming trials next, is a critic of China's human rights record.

    She has joined Team Darfur, a worldwide group of athletes raising awareness of China's support for the Sudanese regime responsible for violence in Darfur.

    “To be going into a country that has massive rioting and death going on, that's definitely something to be paying attention to and be concerned,” she told Lateline.

    But the swimmer says she does not want politics to overshadow the Olympic spirit and acknowledges that as representatives of the AOC, it may not be appropriate for Australian athletes to express some personal opinions.

    In an open letter this week, AOC president John Coates says the Olympics is bringing global attention to issues in China.

    “The fact that the Games in Beijing put the spotlight on the country, thereby encouraging discussion on issues of interest to the global community is a positive outcome of bringing the Olympic movement to China,” he says.

    Coates says BOCOG executive director Wang Wei has stated that “for the whole society, the Olympic Games will speed up reform and opening up”.

    “We sincerely hope that will be the case," he writes.

    New Toilets for New Beijng Venues

    Beijing Olympics organizers have been forced to deal with a problem at its brand new venues – complaints about the predominance of Asian-style squat toilets.

    More than 500,000 overseas visitors are expected in Beijing during the Games in August.
    But the only toilets available for the public and the media at many top venues like the National Aquatic Centre are of the squat variety.

    “After more than 30 test events, a lot of parties have raised the question of toilets,” Hui Yao, deputy head of BOCOG venue management, told reporters.

    “We have told the venues to improve on this, to increase the seated toilets."

    He says bathroom renovations are underway at the Bird’s Nest stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies for the Games.

    Yao says bathrooms at the flagship venue should all have seated toilets.

    As for other venues, “the percentage will depend on the situation of each venue. We are doing our best to improve on the current circumstances.”

    Australia’s Seven Network Breaks $92 million Advertising Mark

    Australian Olympics television rights-holder, the Seven Network, says it has cracked the $92m mark in Games-related advertising revenue.
    The Australian Olympics broadcaster will drop all its normal programming for the 16 days of competition and switch to continuous coverage of the games, devoting around 22 hours each day. (Getty Images)  

    The network has secured the milestone figure “through partnerships and sponsorships and there is more to come through spot sales and marketing of ‘smaller’ packages,” Seven spokesman Simon Francis tells Around the Rings.

    “It is the biggest ever upfront pre-commitment in [Australian] television,” he says.

    Media analysts have been skeptical about the financial viability of covering the Olympics because of the high costs involved, but predict the Beijing Games will draw the biggest local audiences since Sydney 2000.

    Beijing is just two hours behind Australian eastern standard time, giving Seven the opportunity to leverage its Olympics coverage for cross-promotion of its shows and new program launches.

    From 2002 up until this year, Seven has been the master rights holder for Australia, sub licensing radio, additional free-to-air, internet and mobile rights to other media outlets.

    Seven can expect to earn more revenue this year with its sub licensing activities, but rival Nine and pay TV platform, Foxtel, now hold the rights to the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver and London 2012 summer Olympics.
    Beijing Briefs…

    Taiwan presidential front-runner Ying-jeou Ma says if the situation in Tibet worsens, he will not rule out a Taiwanese boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Ma faces ruling party candidate Frank Hsieh in elections on the weekend and is reportedly on the defensive over claims by Hsieh that he is too close to China.

    “I do not rule out the possibility of not sending our team to the Beijing Olympics,” Ma says.

    With reporting from Anthony Stavrinos in Sydney.

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