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IOC may abandon global torch relay

The torch relay for Beijing and future Games will be reviewed at a meeting of IOC chiefs, says a senior official.Paris protests | graphics
AFP | By Charles Whelan, Beijing
UPDATED ON JUN 27, 2012 01:05 PM IST

A senior Olympic official on Tuesday raised the prospect for the first time of abandoning the international legs of the Beijing Games torch relay, amid a wave of protests targeting the flame overseas.

The torch relay for Beijing and future Games will be reviewed at a meeting of International Olympic Committee chiefs in the Chinese capital beginning on Thursday, Gunilla Lindberg, a vice president of the IOC, told reporters here.

"I am sure it will be discussed," Lindberg said when asked if she thought the IOC may scrap the overseas legs of the torch relay.

"I think we need to have a full review."

Other senior IOC officials in Beijing to prepare for the August Games spoke bitterly of the demonstrations that have marred China's efforts to stage the most ambitious torch relay ever.

"All I can say is we are desperately disappointed," IOC board member Kevan Gosper told reporters, acknowledging the torch relay had become an opportunity for activists around the world to air grievances about China.

"They just take their hate out on whatever the issues are at the time, and that hate against the host country is being taken out on our torch."

Gosper, who is a member of the IOC commission advising Beijing on staging the Olympics, described the protesters as "professional spoilers".

Beijing Games organisers are trying to stage the longest and most dramatic Olympic torch relay of all time, visiting 19 countries plus China during a 137,000-kilometre (85,000-mile) journey.

However campaigners trying to raise publicity about China's controversial rule of Tibet and a wide range of other human rights issues surrounding China have shadowed the flame from the moment it was lit in Greece on March 24.

On Monday, the torch relay had to be dramatically cut short in Paris due to disruptions by hundreds of campaigners protesting over Tibet, media freedoms and other issues.

Widespread protests also disrupted the previous day's leg in London, while activists have promised more of the same in San Francisco for the next leg on Wednesday and later in Australia, India, Thailand, Japan and elsewhere.

In China, the torch is also scheduled to include controversial legs up Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, and through Tibet.

China's rule of the remote Himalayan region has returned to the spotlight because of defiant unrest by Tibetans, who say they have suffered widespread repression during nearly six decades living under the Chinese.

Beijing has responded to the protests in Tibet and other areas of western China over the past month with a massive security crackdown that Tibetan exile leaders say has left more than 150 people dead.

China has denied those claims, instead saying Tibetan "rioters" have killed 20 people.

With protests shadowing the flame, Gosper and other IOC officials said they would discuss whether to abandon completely the concept of taking the torch around the world for future Games.

Gosper said the IOC might prefer a return to a more modest relay programme in which the torch was lit in Greece and then transferred to the host country, which would stage a purely domestic relay.

"I am a firm believer that we had the right template in the first place, that the torch should go from Olympia, Greece to the host country," he said.

That model was used up until the Sydney Games in 2000, when the relay for the first time took on a more international flavour.

British IOC member Craig Reedie said London had yet to decide on a plan for its 2012 relay, but the chaos surrounding the Beijing version would influence the decision.

"We have not made any decision about the relay," he told reporters here. "Now is probably not the best time to start planning it."

Beijing Games organisers' spokesman Sun Weide insisted the Olympic torch relay would continue "with the support of people all over the world."

"No force can stop the torch relay of the Beijing Games," he said.

China's foreign ministry also earlier slammed the demonstrations, which it blamed on "'Tibetan independence' separatist forces."

"Their despicable activities tarnish the lofty Olympic spirit and challenge all the people loving the Olympic Games around the world," spokeswoman Jiang Yu was quoted as saying in state media.

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