When the Olympic Torch’s worldwide relay reaches New Delhi next month, Bhaichung Bhutia will not be there. That’s because the India football captain is teaming with those who think China’s isn’t handling the Tibet issue right.
Bhutia didn’t tell the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) as much. Replying to a faxed invitation sent by president Suresh Kalmadi ‘in the first week of March’, Bhutia told the IOA on Monday that he is pulling out of the run from Red Fort to India Gate due to “personal reasons.”
But when HT asked him to elaborate, Bhutia did. “Being invited by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is an honour but at the moment I sympathise with the Tibetan cause,” he said.
In a career spanning 15 years, football’s latest Padma Shri, like most Indian sports stars, has avoided going public on world politics. But then, Bhutia is from Sikkim and at the moment the hills in his part of the country are abuzz with the sound of protest following widespread violence in Lhasa on March 10.
‘Free Tibet’ posters are a frequent sight on the roads that climb into the Himalayan foothills and having spent time at home recently, Bhutia couldn’t have been immune to that. He is also known to have many Tibetan friends.
Last week, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said he could boycott the Games’s opening ceremony over the violence in Tibet. Foreign ministers of the European Union too have expressed concern. Last month, film director Steven Spielberg resigned from his post as artistic consultant to the Games blaming China for failing to resolve the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region.