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Baichung Bhutia refuses to carry Olympic torch

April 2, 2008

1 Apr 2008, 0037 hrs IST,TNN

NEW DELHI: As the Olympic torch was flown into the Chinese capital on
Monday to be taken around the world, the shadow of Tibetan pro-tests
over the Beijing Games seems to be growing.

Now, Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia has refused to run with the
flame when it reaches New Delhi on April 17.

Bhutia faxed his decision to the Indian Olympic Association on Monday
after he had been chosen for the honour of carrying the Olympic torch on
the India leg of its journey.

Talking to TOI , Bhutia, a Buddhist, said, ‘‘I sympathize with the
Tibetan cause. I have many friends in Sikkim who follow Buddhism. This
is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle. I abhor
violence in any form.’’

Bhutia emphasized that he had not been requested by any group to pull
out of the torch run. ‘‘This is an absolutely personal decision. I feel
what’s happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show
my solidarity.’’

Bhutia is not the first public personality to have distanced himself
from the Beijing Olympics.

In February, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic
adviser to the Olympics over China’s support to the Sudanese government
at a time when the regime had been charged with massacres in the
country’s Darfur region.

Last week, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he did not rule out
France boycotting the games if the situation in Tibet worsened.

Suresh Kalmadi, president of the IOA, denied any knowledge of Bhutia’s
faxed reply. ‘‘The fax has not reached me as yet since I’m not in my
office,’’ he said. Kalmadi added that several top athletes like P T
Usha, Milkha Singh and Gurbachan Singh Randhawa have been invited for
the event.

Randhawa, when asked by TOI whether he would carry the torch, said: ‘‘I
have received an invitation to run with the Olympic torch and I will
proudly do it. I know about what is going on in Tibet but the Indian
government is not protesting. So why should I?’’

But Bhutia, not known for having strong political views, has made up his
mind. Never in his football career spanning more than 15 years has
Bhutia transgressed the line that separates sport from politics. He once
even reprimanded a photographer who was taking his snap beside a statue
of Buddha on Buddha Purnima. But the cause of the Tibetan people has
struck a chord with the ‘‘Sikkimese Sniper’’. So much so, it caused him
to shed his ‘‘apolitical’’ garb.
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