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Olympic balancing act

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Mihir Bose | 19:08 UK time, Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The shadow cast by China's human rights record over the Olympics has begun to worry the Olympic movement, particularly those in Europe.

On Sunday, even before the torch protests in London had gathered steam, members of the European Olympic committee met in Beijing.

I was told that strong views were expressed about the need for the Olympic movement to say something about China's human rights. The strongest views came from countries like Holland and Switzerland.

On Monday when the Association of National Olympic Commitees (Anoc) met, its President Mario Vasquez Rana read out a statement which included a reference to how China must solve the Tibet issue peacefully.

The protests in London and Paris have, undoubtedly, further increased the anxiety over the last few days with all eyes on San Francisco.

Nevertheless Rana's statement referring to Tibet did not meet with unanimous approval and caused much anxiety, raising fears it would upset China enormously.

As a result the statement was changed and today, as the Anoc Assembly ended, Rana read out his statement again with the reference to Tibet missing.

Instead there was a more bland comment about conflicts, meant to include troubles from all over the world not just Tibet.

Tibetan protestors on San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge

For good measure, Rana made it very clear he was supportive of China. He said he had voted for Beijing to have the Games and fully supported China's right to host the Olympics.

He added that he had been coming to China for years and had seen enormous changes in the country.

But even as Rana was finishing his press conference there were furious whispers in the lobbies of the Beijing hotel where the Olympic movement is meeting about what other top officials were saying.

I was told that one of the most senior members of the IOC wanted the statement to say that China needs to solve the Tibet issue peacefully.

He felt this was necessary to convince the world that the Olympic movement cares about human rights. He has made his views clear at a meeting of the IOC executive board.

However from everything I have heard, it is clear the IOC President Jacques Rogge would prefer no mention of Tibet and a more bland statement for fear of upsetting the Chinese.

Either way the IOC has realised that ignoring China's human rights issue could mean the protests that have blighted the torch relay and saddened the Olympic family may last until the end of the Beijing Games.

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