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Beijing Olympics 4 April 2008

IOC internal memo minimises events in Tibet and boycott calls

Reporters Without Borders has obtained a copy of an 11-page internal memo which International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge sent to all IOC members setting out a communication strategy for the Tibet crisis and the debate about a boycott of the Olympic Games.

"As the Olympic movement meets in Beijing, we were hoping the IOC would finally pluck up the courage to ask the Chinese authorities to stop the violence in Tibet and human rights violations in China," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "Instead the IOC has sent its members a memo minimising China’s abuses and reiterating the position that the Olympic movement does not meddle in politics."

Ménard added: "Jacques Rogge needs to end the Olympic movement’s disgraceful silence, which is endangering the success of the Olympic Games. The IOC needs to tell the Chinese authorities that they have to respect the commitments they gave in 2001 when China was awarded these games."

The purpose of Rogge’s 17 March memo was to tell all IOC members what position they should take in response to the Tibet crisis and the media "speculation" about a boycott. In his introduction, the IOC president says the events in Tibet are disturbing but will not jeopardise the "success" of the Olympic Games. He also says that no "credible" government or organisation is supporting the idea of a boycott.

The memo, written by the IOC’s public relations department, rules out any direct IOC involvement in resolving the Tibet crisis, even if it recommends that members express their concern. "China’s involvement in Tibet strictly concerns its social and political policy," the memo says. "It is not related to the country’s hosting of the Games, nor to its relationship with the IOC."

The memo provides IOC members with a list of supposed human rights improvements in China. The announced resumption of dialogue between China and the United States, the signing of a UN covenant on human rights (that was never ratified) and China’s election to the UN Human Rights Council are some of the examples cited.

"None of these three events have had the least direct effect on the human rights situation," Reporters Without Borders said. "On the contrary, China is using its position on the UN Human Rights Council to sabotage resolutions in support of free speech worldwide."

The memo repeats several times that the Olympic Games are serving as a "catalyst" for a dialogue on Tibet and its independence but rules out IOC involvement in the resolution of the "complex" crisis. The message that Rogge wants to get across is that "The IOC shares the world’s desire for the Chinese government to bring about a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible." But the memo adds on the next page that the IOC does not raise such matters with countries that host the games.

Regarding the staging of protests as the Olympic flame passes, the memo says: "Demonstrators should understand that they take part in demonstrations at their own risk. (...) Actions of local authorities may include arrest, detention or restraint. The IOC will not interfere with the actions of local authorities."

Reporters Without Borders has learned that the IOC organised a training session on information in times of crisis for members of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) on 7 March in Beijing. "After seeing the propaganda put out by the authorities during the Tibet crisis, we question the effectiveness of the training offered by the IOC," Reporters Without Borders said.

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