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Olympic chiefs prepare their lines in case protests turn to tragedy

April 27, 2008

The Times
April 25, 2008
Ashling O’Connor, Olympics Correspondent

Olympic chiefs are prepared for deaths along the torch relay route, The
Times has learnt.

In a confidential memorandum, the International Olympic Committee (IOC)
has drawn up possible scenarios including incidents where people are
hurt or killed during demonstrations in China and cities around the
world that are hosting the torch.

The IOC, which approved the route through Tibet, has also prepared
“response protocols” for its 205 national committees. The “suggested
statement” in the case of a fatality is: “We extend our deepest
sympathies or condolences to anyone that was injured or killed, and
their families.”

The torch will be in Tibet in June when it will be taken to the summit
of Everest, in what the memo calls a “particularly bold segment” of the
relay. It is the most contentious leg of the Olympic flame’s “journey of
harmony” before the Beijing Olympics.

Pro-Tibet campaigners have demanded a rerouting. They expressed anger
that the IOC is refusing to intervene despite its private admission that
protests could turn violent and lead to loss of life. “Either the IOC
and Olympics sponsors want to avert bloodshed or they don’t. It is in
their power to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,” Matt Whitticase, of
the Free Tibet Campaign, said. “If they insist the torch goes through
Tibet they will only have themselves to blame when it ends up drenched
in Tibetan blood.”

The IOC defended its memo as good governance. “Part of any robust crisis
management preparation is to take the worst-case scenarios. We don’t
want them to happen but we have to prepare for everything,” Giselle
Davies, communications director, said. The IOC “understood the emotions”
over Tibet, she added, “but it was always the case that the torch would
go to all regions of China”.

Bejing officials this week cancelled the press trip covering the ascent
of Everest, blaming adverse weather. The IOC had said that media could
cover the relay “in its entirety” but the Chinese are in charge of
accreditations. No foreign journalist has operated freely in Tibet since
March 14 and the region is closed to tourists.

Vincent Brossel, from Reporters Sans Frontières, a press freedom group,
said: “The restrictions are in complete contradiction with Chinese
promises to the IOC. Reporters should be allowed to go to Everest freely.”

Protests have followed the torch since it was lit in Athens last month,
creating a public relations nightmare for organisers and sponsors.

For Japan this weekend, the three official torch sponsors – Coca-Cola,
Samsung and Lenovo – have scaled down their involvement by cancelling
advertising floats, over security fears.

In an open letter to Coca-Cola this week, more than 150 Tibet groups
asked the US soft drinks group to use its influence to force a
rerouting. Predicting violence, they cited the warning by Jampa
Phuntsog, governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, that the Chinese
authorities would “without doubt deal with these persons severely . . .
we will not be merciful”.

The IOC’s Athletes’ Commission condemned the protests as “counter to the
values the torch stands for” and said it had “not had the peaceful
passage it deserves”.

Olympic sponsors came under more pressure when human rights activists
gave warning that they faced a summer of protests outside their
headquarters, starting this weekend. Dream for Darfur, which is
campaigning for China to end its support for the regime in Sudan, said
that sponsors were “silently complicit in the genocide”.


“We extend our deepest sympathies or condolences to anyone that was
injured or killed, and their families"
- From the IOC’s suggested statement

“Either the IOC and Olympics sponsors want to avert bloodshed or they
don’t. It is in their power to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. If they
insist the torch goes through Tibet they will only have themselves to
blame when it ends up drenched in Tibetan blood"
- Free Tibet Campaign

“Part of any robust crisis management preparation is to take the
worst-case scenarios. We don’t want them to happen but we have to
prepare for everything"
- IOC communications director
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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