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Tibetan Exiles Compete in Alternative 'Olympic Games'

May 26, 2008

By Sarah Harris in Dharamsala
The Independent (UK)
May 25, 2008

An alternative "Olympic Games", organised by Tibetan exiles in India,
has begun here. The aim is to draw international attention to the
situation in Tibet, which is under Chinese rule, just three months
ahead of this summer's official Games in Beijing.

The event was launched last week beneath grey skies in the peaceful
Himalayan village of McLeod Ganj, or Upper Dharamsala, home of the
Dalai Lama and Tibet's government-in-exile. Twenty-three Tibetan
athletes have gathered to compete in four days of archery, running,
swimming, track and field events. Dressed in bold red and white
tracksuits emblazoned with the familiar interlocking rings of the
Olympic logo and the slogan, "One world, many dreams", the Tibetan
competitors are none of them professional athletes ­ but all are
passionate about the spirit behind the games.

"In Tibet we may not have basic human rights, but at least this event
has given us a platform to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic
Games," says one competitor, 20-year-old Dawasango. Speaking after
the first day of events, the Tibetans' archery coach commented: "They
had never touched a bow in their lives and only received six hours
training but it had a symbolic importance to them: their target is a
free Tibet."

The unofficial games follow a bout of violent unrest in
Chinese-controlled Tibet in March, in which the country's
government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured.
China says Tibetan "rioters" and "insurgents" killed 21 people, and
has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to boycott the Olympics ­ an
accusation he firmly denies. Since then Dharamsala has been the
centre of resistance against the Olympic Games, with hunger-striking
Buddhist monks on street corners, and posters carrying the messages
"No Torch in Tibet" and "Boycott the Beijing Olympics".

Last Thursday the Tibetan Olympic torch was carried through the
crowded streets of McLeod Ganj after passing across five continents
and 12 different cities worldwide, including Delhi, Tokyo, Sydney,
London and New York. The welcome it was given was in direct contrast
to the protests that have dogged the Chinese Olympic torch relay
around the world. But organisers of the Tibetan Olympics are keen to
stress that the focus of these games should be sport, and not politics.

"The Tibetan Olympics says that Tibetan people love sport, that we
are united and that we are still alive and kicking," said the event's
director, Lobsang Wangyal, who has been working for the past two
years to organise it. "As soon as China was appointed the host of the
2008 Olympics back in 2001, we knew Tibet would never be allowed to
take part. We had to organise our own sporting event to provide an
opportunity for Tibetan people to unite, to be themselves, assert
their identity and fulfil their sporting aspirations.

"We support the Beijing Olympics, but we are also running towards our
final destination: a free Tibet."

The Dalai Lama has been conspicuously absent from the Tibetan games,
which the Tibetan administration views as insulting to China and
likely to damage the prospect of future talks. Last week his
government-in-exile called for a suspension of protests against China
as a mark of respect for the victims of this month's earthquake.
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