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Tibetan 'Olympics' Hit Financial, Political Hurdles

May 23, 2008

May 22, 2008

DHARAMSHALA - A mock 'Olympics' being held as an anti-China protest
by Tibetan exiles in India has failed to attract sponsors and cannot
even afford to pay out the prize money on offer, organisers say.

The alternative Olympics, which has just 23 participants, comes less
than three months before the real games in Beijing and will feature
sports such as swimming, archery and shooting.

Catherine Schuetze, an Australian acting as clerk for the 'Tibetan
Olympics', said lack of money was threatening the event, which starts
Thursday in Dharamshala, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader
the Dalai Lama.

'We're stripping expenses to the bone and we're still about to run
out of money,' she said. 'There's a desperate need for sponsors,
donations -- anything.'

The Tibetan games' organiser, Lobsang Wangyal, warned he did not have
enough cash to hand out 8,000 dollars in promised prize money.

'I've got just 40,000 rupees (1,000 dollars) and total expenses are
expected to be well over two million rupees,' said Wangyal, who
planned the event as a protest against Chinese rule in his remote
Himalayan homeland.

Organisers face other problems as the exiled Tibetan administration
in Dharamshala has turned its back on the event, which it views as
too insulting to China and likely to damage the prospects of future talks.

The Tibetan administration favours the Dalai Lama's goal of
'meaningful autonomy' for the region within China, rather than the
full independence demanded by more radical Tibetans -- such as those
behind the sports event.

The Dalai Lama's Tibetan government-in-exile on Wednesday also called
for a suspension of protests against China as a mark of respect to
victims of this month's devastating earthquake.

The Dalai Lama has been at pains to assert he supports China as the
Olympic host and has distanced himself from the protests that dogged
the global torch relay.

The Dharamshala event is also causing embarrassment for its unwilling
host India, which has allowed the Tibetan exiles sanctuary as long as
they do not use the soil as a springboard for anti-Chinese activities.

But games director Wangyal said the Tibetan Olympics were 'not being
held to counter the Beijing Olympics.'

Besides Schuetze, volunteers from France, Italy, Peru, Egypt, Japan,
Israel, Germany and the United States have teamed up to help.

'But it's hard work without funds,' said Susan Hayano, a US
photographer who has been drafted into action to take pictures of the games.

Despite the lack of official enthusiasm for the Dharamshala event,
the competitors were upbeat.

'I've participated in many anti-China protests and I thought this
one's going to be cool as there'll be no police to beat us up,' said
22-year-old Tenzin Dhadon, who travelled from Nepal to take part in
the javelin.

Ten women and 13 men aged between 18 and 30 have been practising for
the past week for the games and the three top winners will receive
hand-crafted gold-plated medals.

However, the mountainous topography has imposed restrictions on some
events. The 100-metre (yard) dash has been shortened to just 24
metres because of lack of flat land.

Chinese-controlled Tibet was rocked by unrest in March, and the
Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000
injured in China's subsequent crackdown.

China says Tibetan 'rioters' and 'insurgents' killed 21 people, and
has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics
-- a charge the Tibetan spiritual leader denies.

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