Tibetans try to upstage China with own Olympics

A handful of exiled Tibetans in India began competing on Thursday in what they said were the "Tibetan Olympics", an event high on symbolism meant to mock China, the host of the real Summer Games in August.

On a lush ground at the foothills of the Himalayas, 13 men and 10 women in white and red track suits emblazoned with the five intertwined rings Olympics logo shot arrows and fired from air guns, marking the opening of the four-day games.

"When the world will go to Beijing in August, Tibetans will feel left out, deprived of their rights," Lobsang Wangyal, the chief organiser, told Reuters.

"So in order to make the Tibetans not feel sad and in order to make Tibetans feel a part of the Beijing Olympics we are celebrating Tibetan Olympics."

The Tibetan games are another form of innovative protests by the exiles against China's crackdown after the March unrest in Lhasa. Nearly 150,000 Tibetans live in India, which has also hosted the Dalai Lama since he fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese.

Dharamsala has been the epicentre of Tibetan protests that have dogged the Beijing Olympic torch relay across the world.

Lotus position

Tibetans said their version of the Olympics aimed to show their resolve to participate in the real thing some day. Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, supports the Beijing Olympic Games and has no plans to attend this alternative event.

The Tibetan games began under grey skies with Tibetan songs followed by a prayer and meditation by participants sitting in the lotus position.

"The track may be simple, the dresses may be simple, the equipment may be simple and there may be rain, but our spirit will continue and we will go on together," said Shihan Hussaini, a karate expert and a speaker at the opening ceremony.

"We don't have a chief guest, we don't have the power and money to get the people here, but you are all our chief guests and we all declare this parallel Tibetan Olympics open."

Archery was the first event and each competitor was given three arrows to shoot in two minutes. The archers, cheered by a small crowd, went around collecting their wooden arrows after each round because arrows were short in supply.

Primarily a show funded by Wangyal, the Tibetan Olympics is being covered by a small group of journalists, including from the western media.

"The event was a low-budget and simple affair and funding was the most difficult part," Wangyal said.

"I will be in debt after (this), but it will be a worthwhile debt," he said. "Through this event, we can tell the world our part of the story that Tibetans are alive and kicking."

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

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Reuters India – in.reuters.com/article/topNews/ idINIndia-33715020080522