April 6, 2008

Beijing To Host Olympic Games Despite Pollution

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Saturday the committee has no regrets about its selection of Beijing to host this year's Olympic games.  

Calling the decision a "wise choice", Rogge said the committee did not see any "real momentum" towards any form of boycott of the upcoming games.

China, which won the right to host the Olympics in 2001, is amid a public relations crisis after fiercely clamping down on monk-led marches in Tibet last month.

But Rogge said the opportunity to bring the Games to the world's most populous nation meant the IOC had made the right decision.

"IOC considers that it made a wise choice in awarding the games to Beijing and we have no regrets," Rogge said during a news conference, in response to a question about the country's human rights record.

"We have the tremendous added value of bringing sports and the Olympics to one fifth of mankind," he said.

The monk-led Buddhist marches in Tibet turned into an anti-Chinese riot in Lhasa, touching off a number of demonstrations throughout the region.  China blames the Dalai Lama and his followers, whom it labels separatists, for inspiring the Lhasa violence and attempting to discredit the Olympics, although the 72-year-old Buddhist leader has repeatedly expressed support for the Beijing Games.

Non-governmental organizations have condemned China's response of cracking down and jailing Buddhist Chinese dissidents who speak out over Tibet and other sensitive issues.  They also accuse the IOC of staying silent on the matter.

But the IOC has strongly defended its policy of non-involvement in politics.   Rogge said the issue of protests and potential boycotts will be addressed at a meeting next week of the IOC executive board.

"We are definitely not happy with protests but we respect them as long as they are not violent," he said.

On Saturday, France's Human Rights minister Rama Yade said that President Nicolas Sarkozy would not attend the Games' opening ceremony unless China agreed to conduct talks with the Dalai Lama.

Rogge also spoke about Beijing's poor air quality, saying it could affect athletes' performance.

"The health of the athletes is absolutely not in danger. There is no danger to their health, (although) it might be that some of them may have a slightly reduced performance," he said during a dialogue with students.

Haile Gebrselassie, a Marathon record holder and an asthma sufferer, announced last month he would not compete in the event because of Beijing's poor air quality.

Beijing is one of the world's most polluted cities.   It plans to remove about half of its 3.5 million cars from the roads and partially shut down industry in the capital and five surrounding provinces for two months for the Olympic Games.