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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

IOC stiffens its upper lip as Chinese authorities tighten their grip

June 12, 2008

Heightened security and government interference add to Games concerns
Paul Kelso
Guardian (UK)
June 9, 2008 12:36 AM

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games is 59 days away and
across the Chinese capital clocks count the days. Among International
Olympic Committee executives and members gathered in Athens last week
they are counting the hours to a different landmark: "Everyone is
counting the days to the opening ceremony," said one senior figure.
"Me? I'm looking forward to reaching the closing ceremony on August
24 and getting on the plane home."

Publicly the IOC expresses complete confidence in China's
preparations but behind the optimism lie deep anxieties about the
most politically charged Games in Olympic history. Many senior IOC
officials who were in Athens arrived direct from Beijing where they
held a series of crisis talks with the authorities following the
imposition of tight security measures and a new level of
government-led bureaucracy that threatens to disrupt the smooth
running of the Games.

On top of that are genuine fears that athletes who choose to speak
out against the Chinese regime, critical media and any individuals
daring to protest publicly could prompt a huge backlash from both the
authorities and the general public.

At the heart of the IOC's concerns is the political fallout from
events of the last three months. Riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa
in March prompted a global wave of anti-Chinese protests which found
a convenient focal point in the hapless Beijing Olympic torch relay.
What Beijing hoped would be a triumph degenerated into a tawdry
public relations fiasco that damaged both China and the IOC.

The response in Beijing has been dramatic. Shaken by events, the
Chinese authorities have ordered a huge security clampdown on Olympic
sites that threatens to disrupt basic Games operations.

According to seasoned Sinophiles in the Olympic movement there has
also been a tangible hardening of the public and official mood too.
The attacks on the torch relay came as a genuine shock to many
Chinese, who feel their country has been unfairly traduced. There is
bemusement too at the actions of NGOs including Amnesty that have
called on athletes to speak out against the Beijing government. The
Chinese code of hospitality does not include insulting your host and
the reaction of the authorities and public to anyone who does
criticise China is the great unknown of this Olympiad.

The collision of 20,000 journalists, 10,000 athletes and thousands
more foreign spectators with the Chinese is causing acute unease
within the IOC, and some influential figures fear that any backlash
could be damaging to both the Games and the Olympic movement.

Most sensitive is the issue of athletes speaking out. The IOC charter
prohibits "propaganda and demonstrations" and the IOC has promised to
apply "common sense" when assessing whether the line has been crossed
by, for example, the wearing of a Free Tibet T-shirt or an
inflammatory comment.

There are no such guarantees from the elaborate Chinese security
apparatus, however, and the current mood in Beijing gives little
cause for optimism.

There are technical fears, too. The Chinese central government has
taken a tighter grip on the project in the wake of Lhasa, restricting
the ability of the Beijing Organising Committee (Bocog), with which
the IOC has worked for the last seven years, to take meaningful decisions.

New security arrangements have been imposed at many venues and the
IOC fears that three-cordon procedure proposed by Beijing could
prevent athletes, officials and media - the three categories
prioritised by the IOC - from being able to attend venues smoothly.

Broadcasters have already experienced difficulties, from restricted
access to stadia to finding that permits for filming outside venues
are currently taking 21 days to process. The IOC's task in trying to
resolve some of these issues has been made harder by the introduction
of a new level of bureaucracy revealed last Friday. Under this
structure a two-tier command has been imposed, with central
government officials leading the top tier and Bocog officials and the
mayor dealing with day-to-day operations. With decisions during the
Games usually needed swiftly, the structure poses a major challenge
to the smooth running of the event.

Heine Verbruggen, the chairman of the IOC co-ordination commission
that has steered the Beijing Games since 2001, acknowledges the
challenge. "The biggest challenge that we face is bureaucracy," he
said last week. "The Chinese way is to plan everything to the finest
detail so there are a lot of procedures in place. But the hospitality
and friendliness of the people will be spectacular and I am
absolutely certain the Games will leave an incredible legacy for the country."

The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, also expressed confidence that the
Games would proceed smoothly and that security arrangements would not
be overbearing: "We have asked the Chinese to try and find the right
balance between security and operations, and I have confidence that
they will do so," he said yesterday.

For all the outward confidence it would be no surprise if Rogge was
among those breathing a sigh of relief on August 24.
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