The IOC 'cannot force changes'

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the Beijing Olympics succeeded in opening up China.
President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Jacques Rogge speaks at a news conference today.
President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Jacques Rogge speaks at a news conference today.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said the Beijing Olympics succeeded in opening up China but stressed it was never the sports body's role to force social and political change in the country. "It has been a long journey since our decision in July 2001 to bring the Olympic Games to China, but there can now be no doubt that we made the right choice," Mr Rogge said today, on the final day of the games. The Olympics, he said, had brought unprecedented global scrutiny to the emerging superpower with one-fifth of the world's population. "The world has learnt about China, and China has learnt about the world, and I believe this is something that will have positive effects for the long term," Mr Rogge said.

Despite the grand success of the Beijing Games in terms of organisation, sports venues and athletic performances, the IOC has been accused of failing to get China to live up to promises of improvements in human rights and press freedoms. "We are first and foremost an organisation devoted to sport, but it is sport with a purpose," Mr Rogge said in a speech to the IOC general assembly. "The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world. But we can, and we do, contribute to positive change through sport." Mr Rogge said the Olympics are leaving China with a long-term legacy of sporting facilities, improved urban infrastructure and greater environmental awareness. "Some of the changes in China are obvious today," he said. "Others will become apparent with time. The legacy of these games for China is ultimately up to the Chinese people."

Mr Rogge planned to give his final verdict on the games at today's closing ceremony, but said London would have a tough act to follow when it hosts the 2012 Olympics. "It is clear that China has put the bar very high," he said at a news conference. "So it's going to be a challenge for London and all the subsequent games. I believe and my hope will be London can even put the bar higher." Mr Rogge acknowledged that not everything was "perfect" for media access to the internet during the Beijing Games, and expressed surprise that no citizen protest permits had been granted. While Olympics organisers promised to set aside three protest zones in the city during the competition, authorities said all of the 77 applications for permits to protest were either withdrawn or rejected.

"We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through," Mr Rogge said, adding the IOC was told the cases had been resolved through "mutual agreement." Earlier this week, two elderly Chinese women - Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbour Wang Xiuying, 77 - who applied to protest were told they would be sent to a labour camp for a year. They were still at home on Thursday under the surveillance of a government-sanctioned neighbourhood watch group. "We heard about these cases and we discussed them with BOCOG," Mr Rogge said, referring to the local Olympic organising committee. "The reply we received from the Chinese authorities - this was an application of Chinese law. The International Olympic Committee is not a sovereign organisation. We have to respect Chinese law."

On the sports front, Mr Rogge noted that athletes from a record 87 teams won medals in Beijing, and that more than 40 world records and 120 Olympic records had been set. He singled out American swimmer Michael Phelps, winner of a record eight gold medals, and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who won three golds and broke three world records, as the two "icons of the games." Mr Rogge stood by his controversial comments criticising Bolt for failing to show respect to his fellow competitors after winning the 100 and 200 metres, but said he meant it as "fatherly advice." "Yes of course I have been criticised for various issues," said Mr Rogge, who has been accused of being out of touch. "The Bolt issue, I mean I take it with a big smile." "I stand by what I said," he added.

He also offered praise to American shooter Matt Emmons, who lost gold for a second straight Olympics when his gun went off before he aimed on the final shot of the three-position rifle. His wife, Katerina, a Czech Republic shooter, approached him after his misfire to console him. "What moved me most is the attitude of this man," Mr Rogge said. "The positive attitude to say: `This is a big failure, I take responsibility but I'll come back and I will win gold.' I think this is the true spirit of the Olympic Games." * AP

Published: August 24, 2008 04:00 AM


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