Olympics can bring change to China, Rogge says
ANCIENT OLYMPIA, Greece, 24 March 2008 (AFP) The Olympic Games can prove to be a factor for change in China, International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge said in a press release issued here on Sunday.
"We believe that China will change by opening the country to the scrutiny of the world through the 25,000 media who will attend the Games," Rogge said.
"Awarding the Olympic Games to the most populous country in the world will open up one fifth of mankind to Olympism," he said.
Rogge's comments came ahead of Monday's ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame here and amid calls for a boycott of the Games to protest China's military crackdown in Tibet.
The IOC has come under criticism for not taking a stand on deadly events in the Himalayan province this past week.
Rogge on Sunday noted that non-government and human rights organisations wanted to "leverage" the Games to bring pressure to bear on China.
But he insisted that "the Olympic Games are a catalyst for change, not a panacea for all ills".
"The events in Tibet are a matter of great concern to the IOC... but we are neither a political nor an activist organisation," he said.
"The main responsibility of the IOC is to deliver the best possible Games to the athletes who deserve it."
"We do this in a close and intense collaboration with the Beijing Organising Committee.
"The IOC will work tirelessly with China for the welfare of the athletes and the success of the Olympic Games," Rogge said.
Concern over protests in Olympia against the 57-year occupation of Tibet by China, and last week's crackdown in the Himalayan province by Chinese forces, has introduced unprecedented security to this year's ceremony in Olympia.
Hotels have opened their guest lists to police inspection, officers are patrolling the hills around the ancient stadium where the ritual is held and there are plans to prevent spectators from lining the relay route.
Thousands of people are expected to attend Monday's ceremony, including 2,500 accredited journalists and dignitaries, Beijing Olympic organising committee chairman Liu Qi, and the president and prime minister of Greece, in addition to Rogge.
But activists warn that the lighting of the flame will trigger a wave of protests against Chinese authorities over Tibet and other issues.
Officials from different activist groups have drawn up plans with the goal of galvanising opposition to China's record on Tibet, Darfur, human rights, religious freedom and other issues in the run-up to the August Games.
The spiritual group Falungong, for example, is running its own torch relay to highlight the plight of its followers in China, who it says are subject to brutal persecution.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse