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"Politics and sport are inseparable"

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Former top United Nations sport official Adolf Ogi opposes an Olympic boycott and says the Chinese shouldn't be treated as if they were schoolchildren.

This content was published on April 7, 2008 - 21:49

Ogi, who was a member of the Swiss cabinet and the UN special adviser on sport for development and peace, tells swissinfo that instead the hosts of this summer's Olympics in Beijing should be persuaded to take certain decisions.

China and the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) are under pressure after recent human rights abuses in Tibet sparked worldwide protests. Voices calling for the IOC to take action or boycott the Games are becoming increasingly loud.

On Monday chaos struck the Olympic torch relay through Paris, with security officials extinguishing the flame four times amid raucous protests. This comes a day after 37 people were arrested in London for similar disruptions during the relay.

Unrest in Tibet also overshadowed a meeting of Olympic officials in Beijing on Monday, despite repeated calls by the Chinese against mixing politics with the upcoming Games. IOC President Jacques Rogge said he was "very concerned" about recent violence in the Himalayan region, but played down talk of a boycott.

swissinfo: The ethical principles in the Olympic charter should provide the legitimacy for the IOC to intervene because of the situation in Tibet. Do you agree?

Adolf Ogi: The IOC has its duty. It gave the Games to Beijing and should have realised that issues like Tibet, human rights, freedom of expression and of the press, the Olympic torch and so on would play a big role internationally. The fact that the Olympic torch today needs more protection than President Bush lacks dignity.

The Olympic charter obliges the IOC to convince the Chinese and the organising committee that they have a responsibility.

swissinfo: The route of the Olympic flame leads through Tibet and Mount Everest. Should the IOC insist on this?

A.O.: It would be a first step in the interests of the Olympic movement, the organising committee and Beijing if the route were changed and did not take in Tibet and Mount Everest, which after all is holy to Tibetans. It would send out a positive message to the world and no one would lose face.

swissinfo: You have put forward the idea of a mediator who could act as a negotiator between China and the IOC. You have mentioned Kofi Annan, Tony Blair or Nelson Mandela as possibilities. Do you think this idea has any real chance?

A.O.: The Chinese and the IOC must be aware that further problems will crop up before the Games begin. You cannot compare Beijing with Athens or Sydney, where the main questions involved financing the Games, traffic and construction.

In Beijing there are also political issues. If you give the Games to Beijing, you can't expect to be able to separate sport and politics. It's not possible. The same goes for the Russian city of Sochi [which will host the Winter Olympics in 2014].

The point is to ensure that neither sport, the IOC nor the Chinese should be considered losers by the outside world. In extraordinary situations you have to have the strength to take extraordinary measures.

swissinfo: What if your name were proposed as an extraordinary measure?

A.O.: I would accept, because you shouldn't come up with ideas and then pull out of the game. I have a certain experience as a former Swiss president and with the seven years I spent as UN special adviser on sport for development and peace. I think I could contribute. But I'm not trying to impose [myself.]

There are other personalities, for example those I mentioned. If a delegation was formed, I would be ready.

swissinfo: So what should the IOC do to ensure that future Olympic Games do not turn into a debacle like this one?

A.O.: We can't talk of a debacle. There's still time for the IOC to do something that politics in my view has failed to achieve. The politicians have failed regarding Tibet and human rights.

The IOC can't resolve everything, but the Chinese wanted the games – they opened the window so to speak and now they want the entire world to peer through.

swissinfo: You are against an Olympic boycott. Could one not at least give a clear signal by not attending the opening ceremony?

A.O.: If the current problems cannot be solved, an unbelievable number of suggestions will be put forward: total boycott, heads of state boycotting the opening ceremony, athletes wearing black armbands... I'm also against athletes dressing up as Tibetan monks.

There are ideas and suggestions left, right and centre and the danger is that everything will slip up – and then the damage will be great.

I'm speaking from experience. I have worked full-time for sport and politics for almost 40 years. I believe I am authorised to provide ideas that could solve the current problems – in the interest of sport, the Olympic movement and the Chinese.

swissinfo-interview: Etienne Strebel

Adolf Ogi

Adolf Ogi was born on July 18, 1942 in Kandersteg, in canton Bern. He spent his youth in the Bernese Oberland.

Ogi trained at the Ecole Supérieure de Commerce La Neuveville in the city of Bern, and went on to study at the Swiss Mercantile School in London.

In 1964, he joined the Swiss Skiing Association and went on to head the organisation until 1975. In 1981, he became director general and member of the board of directors with Intersport Switzerland Holdings.

He has been a member of the Swiss People's Party since 1978 and was elected to the Swiss senate in 1979. He went on to lead the party from 1984 to 1987.

In January 1988 Ogi was elected to the Swiss cabinet, serving as transport minister and economics minister. Between 1996 and 2000 he was minister for sport.

After his retirement, he became the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Ogi's mandate expired at the end of 2006, but he was asked to stay on for an additional year by the UN.

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