BEIJING: Six days before the Beijing Olympics, Chinese and international organisers were working together on a compromise to unblock more censored websites for foreign media, a senior IOC official said on Saturday.
It came the same day the International Organising Committee announced here it had stripped the United States’ 4×400-metre men’s relay team of the gold medal it won at the Sydney 2000 Olympics for doping.
China has faced severe criticism after foreign reporters covering the August 8-24 Games discovered a range of websites were barred at the high-tech Olympic media centre.
Beijing has since unblocked a number of those sites including that of Amnesty International, but many others remain inaccessible, bringing more unwanted bad publicity for Games organisers and the Chinese government.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge last month had promised unfettered Internet for foreign journalists covering the showpiece event.
IOC executive board member Kevan Gosper said on Saturday Rogge had not changed his position on the need for free Internet access, and contrary to reports, had not struck a deal with Chinese organisers to block some sites.
“We were able to clarify at a most senior level… there was absolutely no shift that had occurred,” Gosper told reporters on Saturday.
He said the IOC and BOCOG, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, have set up a working group to examine which remaining censored websites can be opened up to reporters.
He described the process as a “work in progress”, but the Australian said he was hopeful access would improve.
“We believe we are moving to a point where you will be in a position to report in an unfettered way,” Gosper said, adding there will always be a debate over whether a country’s own regulations meet international expectations.
On Friday, the previously barred websites of Amnesty, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle were accessible.
But many other sites were still blocked, including those linked to Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement, the Tibetan exiled leaders and sites with information on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said Beijing organisers, when referring to Internet restrictions in previous meetings, had spoken only of pornographic sites and those sensitive for national security reasons.
The decision to strip the US 4×400-metre team of its gold was made after team member, Antonio Pettigrew, admitted in May to doping as far back as 1997 and agreed to return his Sydney gold medal, spokeswoman Davies said.
The Nigerian team will now receive the gold medal, she said.
Meanwhile, fireworks were expected to light up the sky over Beijing during a dress rehearsal for what has been described as an epic opening ceremony at the Olympic stadium, or “Bird’s Nest” as it has been labelled for its design.
The rehearsal was going ahead despite security breaches that led to footage of an earlier practice leaking out.
The first rehearsal took place on July 11 within a ring of tight security around the Olympic stadium. However, a crew from South Korea’s private station SBS sneaked in and then broadcast parts on television on Tuesday before posting it on the Internet.
The IOC accused the South Korean station of “stealing” the footage and Beijing organisers said they were investigating.
Also on Saturday, the first of about 100 French athletes moved into the athletes’ village. Most of the early arrivals are competing in the rowing, shooting and handball events.
“The Olympic competition is always difficult,” the Xinhua news agency quoted reigning Olympic champion rower Adrien Hardy as saying after landing at Beijing’s airport.
More than 40 athletes from North Korea also arrived on Saturday. Team members were quoted by Xinhua as saying the women’s soccer team would be the country’s best chance for a gold medal, adding they were hoping for an “Olympic miracle”.
Channel News Asia