Czech politicians question Beijing Olympics

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The decision to hold the 2008 Olympic Games in China has aroused many discussions in the Czech Republic - as it has throughout the world. The violation of human rights in China runs contrary to the basic ideals of the Olympic Games, and holding them there would be violating the Olympic Charter. Others disagree with mixing politics and sports. Olga Szantova reports.

Karel Pilny, President of the Czech Athletics Association says:

"I cannot say it from a political point of view, but from an athletics point of view it's the right decision, because China is a great country with a great potential and just to talk about human rights, just to talk about other different things, it's not the right way. So therefore I'm quite happy that the decision was made. Beijing is a very good candidate. I was personally there a few weeks ago when the race walking world cup was organized there and the competition was very well organized and I hope the Games will be a great success. And, of course, the games in Beijing give a great opportunity to open the country and this is important. We have to see that the International Olympic Committee is not a political body, it is not a government and it's not a parliament of a country. Of course sports and also the Olympic Committee played a great role in the past and will surely play it in the future also in the case of Beijing. But the important thing is, how politicians from important countries will continue with the policy of their own countries in connection with the decision and in connection with the preparations for the Games, That's the question - how the decision and the preparations will be used."

And that's exactly what a group of Czech senators intends to do. The Upper House's vice president Jan Ruml and the chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, Michael Zantovsky are drawing attention to the discrepancy between the violation of human rights in China and the basic ideals behind the Olympic Games. Radio Prague's Olga Szantova asked senator Zantovsky to explain the aims behind the initiative.

"Our aim is to collect, catalogue and monitor information on the development of the human rights situation in China prior to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and we are trying to launch an international initiative that would make a determination within five years, whether there has been an improvement in that respect in China and in the absence of such an improvement we would call on the International Olympic Committee and on National Olympic Committees to take the appropriate steps."

Are you counting on pressing the Beijing government, on influencing it?

"Traditionally the governments in Beijing have not responded very positively well to pressure, so we would rather speak of dialogue about the situation in China and about the views of the outside world about the ideals of the Olympic Charter and we hope for an understanding between the views of the Chinese government and the views of the outside world with respect to human rights."

When you say dialogue do you mean between your group, or the Czech government, or an international body?

"Well, we are too small a group to hope for a large scale dialogue with the Chinese government, but we hope that enough people will pay attention to this, because this is a very historical event, the Olympics in Beijing and enough people will be willing to enter into the dialogue and voice their views, so that we can draw the Chinese government into the dialogue."

Does your group plan to organize this, to coordinate it?

"Yes, we will be trying to coordinate it, we will be launching a web-page, try to make a data base of the information on the human rights situation and of human rights activists with interests in China and to create a coalition, so to speak, for this purpose."

Why didn't you speak up before the decision to hold the Olympics was made, when there was a chance of influencing that decision?

"Well, we were not attempting to prevent the decision on the Summer Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing. That would only mean punishing China for its human rights violations. Our approach is different. We want to make a positive contribution and we want to point out to the Chinese government that this is a great opportunity for the country to democratize its behavior, to introduce human rights for all its citizens and to help the Chinese economy in the process and we would want to be helpful in this respect."

Author: Olga Szantová
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