Olympic Chief Says Australia Will Not Boycott Beijing Games

SYDNEY: The Australian Olympic Committee does not support a boycott of the Beijing Games because of concerns about human rights in China, committee president John Coates said Monday.

Deadly violence in Tibet has raised some calls to boycott the sporting showcase.

But Coates said Australia agreed with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy that boycotting the event would only hurt the athletes participating.

“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 organisations,” Coates said in an open letter.

“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.”

“Australia has participated in every Olympic Games of the modern era and the Games in Beijing will be no different.”

In 1980, the then-Australian Olympic Federation sent a team to the Moscow Olympics in defiance of a directive of the Australian government to boycott the Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

However, many athletes withdrew from the Moscow event of their own accord.

Coates said the Olympics were an overall “vehicle for good” and had a positive impact on any host city.

“The IOC’s focus must remain on enabling highly dedicated athletes to prove themselves at the pinnacle of sport,” he said.

“As the president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, has stated, to deny them that opportunity would penalise athletes and solve nothing.

“The IOC is not in a position to pressure China on matters outside of Games time or which concern national laws.”

Coates said he supported previous statements from the executive director of the Beijing organising committee Wang Wei that the Games would speed reform in China and help it become a more open society.

“We sincerely hope that will be the case,” Coates said.

In September, the then sports minister George Brandis ruled out boycotting the Games over China’s human rights record in relation to the treatment of the banned Falungong spiritual movement.

Australia’s team of 500 athletes will be the third largest squad at Beijing, behind China and the US, and hopes to finish among the top five nations in terms of medal haul.

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has described the violence in Tibet as disturbing and called on Chinese authorities to exercise restraint. He has indicated he will raise the issue at meetings in Beijing next month. – AFP/ac

Channel News Asia

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