Tibetan exiles plan to take shine off Beijing Olympics

By Pratap Chakravarty | AFP

Tibetan exiles in India announced plans on Tuesday for a sporting event next year that organisers hope will take some of the shine off the 2008 Olympics in China.

The 10-day Tibetan "Olympics" will take place from May 10, 2008 in northern India's hilltop town of Dharamsala, the headquarters of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

"This is going to be purely a sporting event for Tibetans living in exile, as they would not be able to go to Beijing for the Olympics," Lobsang Wangyal, the head of the organising committee, told AFP.

"Finding funds will not be a problem as Tibetan organisations worldwide will donate," he added by telephone from Dharamshala, which is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile.

He estimated the cost of the games, which will include marathon, swimming, shooting, archery and track and field events, at around 90,000 dollars.

"We have a large swimming pool which will have to do," Wangyal said, referring to the planned swimming contests.

China has ruled Tibet since sending troops in to "liberate" the region in 1951 and has violently suppressed a number of uprisings since then.

The Dalai Lama has lived in Dharamshala since fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

Amnesty International has accused Beijing of using the Olympics, to be held from August 8 to August 24 2008, to crack down on peaceful dissent in the name of stability — charges that China has rejected.

Wangyal, much to China's annoyance, has already staged several "Miss Tibet" beauty pageants in Dharamsala.

Last year Miss Tibet Tashi Yangchen was barred from taking part in a beauty contest in Malaysia after Beijing complained that a woman who lived in India could not represent a part of China.

The Dalai Lama has abandoned his original call for independence for his homeland in favour of "meaningful autonomy" to preserve Tibet's language, culture and environment.

China has rejected his overtures and sees him as a trouble-maker.

"In India we live in democracy and we have the right to expression and so no one can stop us (staging the games)," said Wangyal.

"We can't take part in Beijing because Tibet is not recognised as a separate nation," he added.

The organisers later in a press conference said they were hoping for wider participation.

"There will be no bar on any country or sportsperson planning to participate in the games here," a spokesman of the event told reporters in Dharamshala.

He also said the torch of the "Tibetan Olympics" will be lit on January 30 in New Delhi and carried by road to Dharamsala by a series of "Tibetan, Indian, and international runners."

The games will feature top prizes of 2,220 dollars in each event.

"Whatever the scale, it will definitely offend Beijing," anti-China activist Purbo Thinley, who operates an all-Tibetan website, said by telephone from Dharamshala.

However, Tibetan leaders in India said they would rather not offend China.

"(The) Olympics is a prized event for China and some of us feel the games here will needlessly irk China," a senior official from the Tibetan government-in-exile told AFP, asking to remain unnamed.

[Tashi Yangchen was barred from two pageants — Zimbabwe and Malaysia in 2005, not last year as reported by AFP. — Webmaster]

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