April 15, 2008 / 11:49 PM / in 9 years

U.S. would only boycott Beijing over athlete safety

3 Min Read

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The United States would only consider boycotting the Beijing Olympics if China was unable to guarantee athlete safety, United States Olympic Committee (USOC) chief Jim Scherr said on Tuesday.

Following recent protests over China's human rights record and stance on Tibet, Scherr was asked what could force the U.S. to pull out of this year's Games.

"If there is a point that we cannot guarantee the safety of the delegation we would look at whether or not we would send a team," Scherr told Reuters.

"However, we feel absolutely good about China's preparations on security and the safety of our delegation.

"We're committed to sending a team, we have accepted an invitation and we have nothing else under consideration at this point and time."

From 16-year-old gymnast Shawn Johnson to 39-year-old modern pentathlete Sheila Taormina, most of the U.S. Olympians taking part in a three-day USOC media summit have been asked about political issues.

Demonstrations along the Olympic torch relay route through London, Paris and San Francisco have taken the spotlight off the Olympics and put it on Tibetan anti-Beijing protests, sparking calls for a boycott.

Olympic Ideals

Scherr said the world should take the opportunity to embrace the Olympic ideals to get its message across in the same way that black sprinter Jesse Owens did at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

"As an Olympian and CEO of the United States Olympic Committee the Games themselves are inherently good," said Scherr. "The competition on the field stands for excellence, hope, inspiration and most importantly friendship among nations and peoples.

"That message comes through the Games and that message is an important one to deliver to the world.

"If Jesse Owens didn't go to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and show the world that the ideology that was in place at the time was flat wrong by winning four gold medals he would not have had the opportunity.

"We're looking forward to taking this team to Beijing and making those statements."

The USOC and team coaches have said they will not try to stop their athletes from speaking out in Beijing.

"They (players) have the right to express their opinions... freedom of speech," said Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the U.S. men's basketball team. "I would tell them to follow their hearts but understand they are representing U.S. basketball.

"Sometimes, through a performance you do more than what you say.

"None of these athletes have a responsibility to be political. They have responsibility to represent the country in the best possible manner."

Editing by Ed Osmond

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