Czech PM announces he is going to Beijing – after Olympics opening ceremony

Mirek Topolánek and Jan Železný of the Czech Olympic Committee, photo: CTK

The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, has just announced that he is going to the Olympics in Beijing next month. However, he is heeding a Czech cabinet recommendation that he boycott the opening ceremony and will arrive in China the following week. Why is Mr Topolánek going to Beijing? And who – if anyone – will represent the Czech Republic at the opening?

Mirek Topolánek and Jan Železný of the Czech Olympic Committee,  photo: CTK
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek was wearing a Tibetan flag badge on Tuesday when he accepted an invitation from the Czech Olympic Committee to make a three-day visit to the Beijing games. That pin was pointed: after a violent Chinese crackdown on protesters in Tibet this year, senior Czech politicians said they would boycott the opening ceremony. Mr Topolánek adopted the same position on the recommendation of the cabinet.

The Czech PM is due to arrive in Beijing on August 13, five days after the curtain raiser. Explaining his decision to go, Mr Topolánek said he wanted to support Czech athletes who had worked hard preparing for Beijing for so many years.

Czech Olympic Committee officials have spoken out against mixing sport and politics and expressed concern over the possibility no Czech politicians would go to Beijing. So what does the prime minister’s planned visit mean for them? That’s a question I put to Czech Olympic Committee spokesman Jan Martinek.

Chinese workers do cleaning work on the top of the National Stadium,  Beijing,  July 11,  photo: CTK
“I must say it doesn’t mean anything special, because we invited him and he accepted our invitation, so he will go to Beijing.”

Is Mr Topolánek the only senior Czech politician going to the Olympics?

“Yes, he’s the only person from the government who’s going to the games. We invited the president of the state, Mr Václav Klaus, and he refused the invitation because of health problems [he recently underwent hip surgery]. We invited the minister of education [and sport], Mr Liška, and he refused the invitation for political reasons.”

Who’ll be the most senior Czech official at the actual opening ceremony of the games? Or will there be any?

“Mr Jan Kocourek, the deputy minister of education, will be present at the ceremony.”