Beijing Boycott? Don't Tell Olympic Athletes

China's critics on Tibet, human rights issues call for boycott of summer games.

ByABC News
March 22, 2008, 5:18 PM

March 24, 2008 — -- In Athens, Greece today, the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic torch was held, but not before being marred by protesters. While Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee gave a speech, two men carrying black flags ran onto the stadium field. The men, who were detained by police, were reportedly free press advocates from the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders.

With less than five months to go before that torch arrives at the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympic Games, the B-word is being bandied about -- B as in boycott, that is.

In particular, several top European Union officials have been clamoring for action ranging from an EU no-show at the opening ceremonies to a full-scale walkout by European athletes.

"There will be a boycott of some sort, what kind of boycott is the question right now. … At a minimum I think the EU should require that no elected official from the 37-member states attend the opening ceremony, but that is the minimum," European Parliament vice president Edward McMillan-Scott said.

Also today, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, who attended the ceremony in Greece, told The Associated Press that he is quietly talking with China on Tibet and other human rights issues before the Olympics. .

"The IOC [International Olympic Committee] is engaged in what I call a 'silent diplomacy' with Chinese authorities since day one of the preparations of the games," Rogge said. "We are discussing on a daily basis with Chinese authorities, including discussing these issues, while strictly respecting the sovereignty of China in its affairs."

Talk of an Olympic boycott has escalated after China's recent violent crackdown on demonstrators in Tibet.

The Tibetan government in exile claims that 103 people have died in the recent unrest, but that number could go much higher, Elliot Sperling, an Indiana University professor of Tibetan studies, said.

Sperling has been frantically communicating with people inside Tibet since the widespread demonstrations began March 10, the Tibetan National Day.

"There have been reports of massive deployments of trucks, thousands may have been arrested, there are large numbers of dead, but it's very difficult to sift through the reports," he said. "Clearly there have been casualties."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and nine other members of Congress visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, last week. The Tibetan spiritual leader has lived in India since he fled his homeland after an uprising against China in 1959.

The trip had been scheduled long before the current protests, but Pelosi called the timing of the visit "karma" as she stood next to the Dalai Lama and denounced "China's oppression of people in Tibet."

While the recent violence in Tibet has drawn much attention from media and politicians, it is just one of a long list of grievances that humanitarian groups have with China.

An organization known as TEAM Darfur has made it its mission to "educate athletes and the public about the crisis in Darfur."

China supplies weapons to the government in Sudan and buys oil from the country whose government, activists argue, is responsible for the atrocities in Darfur.

Those are the same reasons cited by filmmaker Steven Spielberg when he withdrew from his post as an artistic adviser to the games.

Other celebrities, such as actress Mia Farrow, have started calling this the "genocide Olympics." Although she is not in favor of an athlete boycott, Farrow has said she believes that high-profile political figures should pull a no-show at the games.

"I don't think President Bush should be at the Olympics. He represents the American people," Farrow said.