Tibetan 'Olympics' kicks off in India

A mock "Olympics" organised by Tibetan exiles kicked off in northern India on Thursday despite calls to halt anti-China protests as a mark of respect for earthquake victims.

The alternative games, which have just 23 participants, comes less than three months before the Beijing Games and will feature sports such as swimming, archery and shooting.

"The world goes to Beijing for the Olympics Games, but we have nowhere to go — and so we must demonstrate we the Tibetan people are also alive," said games director Lobsang Wangyal in this fog-shrouded northern Indian hilltop town.

But the event has failed to attract sponsors, and its organisers say they cannot even afford to pay out the prize money promised.

Catherine Schuetze, an Australian acting as volunteer book-keeper for the "Tibetan Olympics" said lack of money was threatening the event in Dharamshala, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Wangyal said he did not have enough cash to hand out 8,000 dollars in promised prize money.

"I've got just 40,000 rupees (1,000 dollars) and total expenses are expected to be well over two million rupees," said Wangyal.

The Dalai Lama's exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamshala has turned its back on the event, which it views as insulting to China and likely to damage the prospects of future talks.

It is also causing embarrassment for its unwilling host nation — India has allowed the Tibetan exiles sanctuary on the condition they do not use its soil as a springboard for anti-Chinese activities.

Chinese-controlled Tibet was rocked by unrest in March, and the Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured in China's subsequent crackdown.

China says Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people, and has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics — a charge the Tibetan spiritual leader denies. He insists he supports China as the Olympic host.

The Tibetan administration backs the Dalai Lama's goal of "meaningful autonomy" for the region within China, rather than the full independence demanded by more radical Tibetans — such as those behind the sports event.

The Dalai Lama's Tibetan government-in-exile on Wednesday called for a suspension of protests against China as a mark of respect to victims of this month's devastating earthquake.

But the influential Tibetan Youth Congress, which largely ignores the Dalai Lama's appeals for moderation, threw its weight behind the alternative games.

"We live in a democratic country and there is no comparison between the games and our freedom struggle and if China protests, then it would reveal its true colours of being a bully," said Tibetan Youth Congress secretary Tenzin Yangzon.

Ten women and 13 men aged between 18 and 30 have been practising for the past week for the games and the three top winners will receive hand-crafted gold-plated medals.

However, the mountainous topography has imposed restrictions on some events. The 100-metre dash has been shortened to just 24 metres because of a shortage of flat land.

Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse (AFP)

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