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Beijing decision defended by IOC

February 10, 2008

BBC News
Friday, 8 February 2008

The International Olympic Committee says history will prove it was right
to award the 2008 Games to Beijing despite concerns over human rights in

Friday marks six months until the start of the Olympics and there
remains disquiet in some quarters at the record of the Chinese communist

But IOC communications chief, Giselle Davies, told BBC Sport: "We feel,
very strongly, it was the right decision.

"We are just as proud of that decision today as when we made it."

A leading human rights activist, Hu Jia, was arrested last week
prompting further calls for the IOC to speak out.

But Davies added: "History will look back and say the Games were a key
part in a rapid and fascinating evolution of a country which is front
and centre of the global community.

"There's no denying there has been a number of reports of late in the
media of issues of concern.

"But come August, there will be two weeks of competition when the whole
world will be watching and up to 20,000 media on site.

"That will allow the world to take a look at Beijing and the wider
Chinese society. We see that as positive - and think it will engender a
stronger understanding.

"If and when there are things which are brought to our attention that we
deem to be specifically Games-related and not in line with our values,
of course we're concerned.

"But, over the course of the last seven years, there has been enormous
change that has taken place in China - some of it thanks to the Olympics.

"We believe the Games have been more positive than negative over the
course of that time."

There was controversy last year when reports emerged that the Chinese
Government was building a database on foreign journalists due to cover
the Olympics - and that some reporters could be blacklisted.

The report was denied by the country's authorities, but the IOC accepts
that China still has to make progress on the issue of press freedom.

Davies said: "As regards to the media rules and regulations, there was a
great step forward made in January 2007 bringing in new laws that will
help foreign journalists in their reporting.

"It's fair to say that there are some problems with the implementation
of that law but we still believe it's on track for August 2008."

In January, the Chinese Government confirmed that six workers had died
while building venues for the Games, though a report in the Sunday Times
newspaper suggested that at least 10 workers had died accidentally in
the course of building the main stadium.

As a result, the IOC say it has sought and received "assurances" from
the Beijing organising committee about the health and safety of building

Meanwhile, it is warning athletes not to use the Games as a vehicle to
make political or religious statements.

"The Olympics is first and foremost a sporting event and that should
never be forgotten. It's not the place for political, religious and
other statements," said Davies.

"Clearly athletes, if they are asked questions, will have total freedom
of expression to answer as they see fit. But the Games is not the place
for proactive expressions on religion and politics."

Whether Prince Charles will be at the opening ceremony in Beijing has
also been a source of controversy after he confirmed to the Free Tibet
Campaign that he had no plans to attend.

The Prince has publicly supported the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual
leader of Tibet, who has challenged Chinese control of the region.

But Davies added: "I think the issue over Prince Charles was a
misunderstanding, as we understand it. Invitations to the opening
ceremony have not been sent out yet, but the Princess Royal is an IOC
member so she will be there."
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