Olympics: Olympic Show Goes On For Warring Georgians And Russians

BEIJING: Georgia and Russia assured the IOC on Sunday that they would remain at the Olympic Games despite the escalating battle between their respective countries over South Ossetia.

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the heads of the Georgian National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the Minister for Youth and Sport had been to see them on Sunday morning to pledge their participation at the Games – something that had been warmly welcomed by the IOC.

“The (Georgian) NOC confirmed the decision was taken at all levels and supported by their government that they would continue their participation,” said Davies.

“This reflects the Olympic spirit. The IOC believes it is the right decision, especially for the athletes as it is a once in a lifetime experience for them.”

Davies, who confirmed the Russians had also insisted they were staying, said that there had been no intervention by the IOC.

“We were informed last night (Saturday) that discussions were going on,” she said.

“We had an update this morning (Sunday), but we didn’t intervene at any stage.

“We are delighted. We understand the emotions and concerns of the athletes, but they are here for the Olympic Games. They are here for a competition they have trained for several years.”

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had set the tone by telling his athletes to remain at the Games despite their anger over Russia’s role in the bloody turmoil in South Ossetia.

“President Saakashvili decided that the Georgian Olympic delegation would remain in Beijing,” press spokesman Guiorgui Tchanishvili told AFP.

“We are going to continue the competition with more passion and determination.

“The president’s wife, who is actually in Beijing, went to the Athletes Village and she announced the decision to the athletes.”

Russia and Georgia will come to face to face at the Olympics on Wednesday when they clash in a women’s beach volleyball match.

“We are going to play this match,” added Tchanishvili. “We are going to play with more passion against all countries including Russia. Nothing else.”

Davies insisted there would be no repeat of the infamous water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union in the 1956 Games in Melbourne which came shortly after 200,000 Soviet troops had invaded Hungary to suppress an uprising against the Moscow-backed Communist regime.

Matters got so out of hand between the two previously friendly sides that the referee had to abandon the match and the Australian police had also to step in to protect the Soviet team from being attacked by the spectators.

“The updates we have had from both NOC’s indicate that the spirit is one of participating in sport and all that entails of respect and friendship from athlete to athlete. We do not believe there is any reason also to step up security,” said Davies.

Earlier Saturday, the Georgia NOC, issued a statement condemning Russian air raids on their territory which have left scores of people dead.

“While the fireworks were exploding over China’s capital’s starlit sky (during Friday’s opening ceremony here), Georgia was dealing with bombings and explosions in many of its villages and towns: Gori, Kareli, Poti, Senaki, Kutaisi, Bolnisi and Marneuli,” said the statement.

“We hope that the dove that was released on Friday from the ‘Bird’s Nest’ stadium will make its way to the Caucasus and restore peace in the region.”

Russia’s latest military action took place as the former Soviet state of Georgia tried to wrest control of the disputed province of South Ossetia from Moscow-backed separatists.

Western leaders, who have called for full respect of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, urged Russia to curb its military action.

– AFP/yb

Channel News Asia

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