IOC member rips 'disaster' of global torch relay


A senior International Olympic Committee member said the Beijing Olympics escaped political boycotts only due to the goodwill following May's devastating earthquake.

Canadian member Dick Pound said during the IOC's general assembly today that the global torch relay never should have taken place in light of expected protests by activists opposed to China's policies on Tibet, human rights and other issues.

"This came very close to becoming a disaster," he said. "The risks were obvious and should have been assessed a little more carefully. The result is there was a crisis affecting the games."

The relay was disrupted by anti-China protests in London, Paris and other cities.

Earlier, IOC president Jacques Rogge said the committee would consider whether to eliminate international relays in the future, but it was the outspoken Pound who raised the issue to a more contentious level.

"In my country and in many other countries in my part of the world, we were in full boycott mode," he said. "Public opinion and political opinion was moving toward an actual boycott of the games, and it was only the earthquake tragedy that diverted attention from what could otherwise have been something very, very serious."

Nearly 70,000 people were killed and 5 million left homeless in the May 12 quake in Sichuan province.

Pound said the IOC should fully analyze the relay situation to make sure it never happens again.

"It's been done and resolved and we escaped this disaster," he said, as leaders of the Beijing organizing committee listened from the dais.

Rogge said the IOC will always retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece. But he reiterated the IOC might limit the flame processions to domestic routes within the Olympic host countries.

"We respect protests and freedom of expression, but violence is against the Olympic spirit," Rogge said. "We believe in the strong symbolism of the torch relay."

He noted the relay was also disrupted in Italy before the 2006 Winter Games in Turin by anti-globalization demonstrators and protesters opposed to road construction projects in the region.

"It is illusory to think the simple elimination of the international relay will make all the problems disappear," Rogge said. "The torch relay attracts the media, and the media attracts the protesters. To make it only a national relay will not solve all the problems."

Senior Chinese IOC member He Zhenliang said he was "very disappointed" by the anti-China protests, adding the Olympic flame was a powerful symbol to unite the world's youth to compete in peace and harmony.

"After these incidents, we are convinced more than ever that we need to cherish and preserve the flame," he said. "We must make all efforts to make sure these incidents are never repeated again. It is a hope. I don't know if it will become a reality."

The torch relay has passed off peacefully since coming to China, and the flame is currently in Sichuan province. The relay will culminate in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at Friday night's opening ceremony.

"I am convinced the games will be a great success and will be well organized," Rogge said. "These games will leave a fantastic legacy for China."

Rogge also cited the IOC's anti-doping efforts in Beijing, including a record 4,500 doping tests and a new rule which bans athletes from the next Olympics if they receive a doping ban of at least six months. He mentioned the "new danger" of betting and match-fixing, noting that the IOC has set up a special unit in Beijing in collaboration with Interpol to monitor any irregular activities.

Rogge outlined the financial strength of the IOC, which has reserves of $353 million and is generating $866 million in revenue from global sponsorships in the 2005-08 cycle and forecasts $1 billion from the next four-year cycle. Television rights fees for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics are bringing in $3.8 billion.

Also Tuesday, U.S. member Anita DeFrantz, who chairs the women and sport commission, chastised the Olympic movement for failing to meet goals on promoting women to leadership positions.

"Sadly, we appear to be moving backward," she said.

The IOC set a goal in 1996 of having women make up 20 percent of the membership. As of today, only 16 of the 110 members are women &

six short of the target.

In addition, 23 of the world's 205 national Olympic committees have no women on their leadership bodies. DeFrantz said four international sports federations &

FIFA, archery, baseball and bobsled &

also have no women in the top roles.

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