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Beijing Olympics 15 February 2008

Slovenia, as EU president, asked to disown "outrageous" comments by Slovenian sports minister

-  February 17th

Statement by the Slovenian education and sports minister Zver

Sports as means of intercultural dialogue and human rights culture

In an interview with AP I expressed my personal opinion on a growing debate about the Olympic Games becoming a political instrument which could eventually lead to the boycott of the Games.

May opinion is that politicians, civil society, NGOs and industry should highlight violations of human right all over the world, including China. I firmly believe that a boycott of the Olympic Games is not a proper political approach in the 21st century and that sports should become the tool of intercultural dialog, co-operation and peace in the world.

Besides that I never gave any recommendations or instructions to the athletes about their behavior in Beijing. They are free men and women and nobody has the right to pressure them.

In summary, I think that it is up to each individual and democratic institution to strive for the culture of human rights. Sports and Olympic Games could have positive impact on that. But a boycott of Olympic Games would not, in my opinion, contribute to this goal.

-  February 15th

Slovenia, as EU president, asked to disown "outrageous" comments by Slovenian sports minister

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by Slovenian sports minister Milan Zver’s recommendation yesterday, in an interview for the Associated Press, that Olympic athletes avoid talking about human rights while they are in Beijing.

"This kind of statement by Slovenia, the current holder of the European Union presidency, encourages the Chinese government to do nothing to improve the human rights situation before the start of the Beijing Summer Olympics," the press freedom organisation said.

"The Slovenian sports minister is undermining the work of European institutions, human rights organisations and, in general, all those who defend basic freedoms," Reporters Without Borders continued. "We call on Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose government holds the EU presidency, and the other members of the European Council to disown Zver’s comments and to reaffirm everyone’s right, if they desire, to talk about the situation of basic freedoms in China during the Beijing games."

The organisation added: "With less than six months to go to the games, the only acceptable statement from the sports minister of any country is to say that athletes are free to express their views on any subject they like. Zver should follow the example of his Scandinavian counterparts who have briefed their athletes on the human rights situation in China."

Zver told the Associated Press: "Sports is too important. It is too important to use it as a political instrument." Talking about the human rights situation while in Beijing could have an adverse effect on the Chinese authorities, he said. "They need more time. Give them the time for that and do not use sports as an instrument."

European parliament president Hans-Gert Pöttering has urged the Chinese authorities on several occasions to improve the human rights situation before the Beijing games. He mentioned the release of human rights activist Hu Jia in particular.

Slovenia began a six-month stint as holder of the EU rotating presidency on 1 January.

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