April 5, 2008 / 5:25 AM / 12 years ago

IOC head says Beijing was "wise choice"

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee has no regrets about its “wise choice” of Beijing to host the Olympics, its president said on Saturday.

Models of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games mascots are seen as smoke billows from a power plant in the back in Taiyuan, Shanxi province February 23, 2008. The head of the International Olympic Committee said on Saturday that Beijing's poor air quality will not endanger the health of athletes competing in the games in August, but it may affect their performance. REUTERS/Stringer

Jacques Rogge said the IOC did not see a “real momentum” towards any form of boycott of the Games by governments.

China, which won the right to host the Olympics in 2001, faced a public relations crisis last month after it rigorously clamped down on monk-led marches in Tibet.

Rogge said the opportunity to bring the Games to the world’s most populous nation meant the IOC had made the right choice.

“IOC considers that it made a wise choice in awarding the games to Beijing and we have no regrets,” Rogge told a news conference in response to a question about China’s human rights record.

“We have the tremendous added value of bringing sports and the Olympics to one fifth of mankind.”

The Buddhist monk-led marches in Tibet turned into an anti-Chinese riot in Lhasa and touched off a rash of demonstrations throughout the region.

China blames the Dalai Lama, whom it labels a separatist, and his followers for stirring up the Lhasa violence to try to discredit the Olympics. The 72-year-old Buddhist leader has repeatedly expressed support for the Beijing Games.

The crackdown and China’s jailing of a Buddhist Chinese dissident who spoke out over Tibet and other sensitive topics have angered non-governmental organizations who condemn China’s behavior and accuse the IOC of staying silent.

VIGOROUSLY DEFENDED

IOC has vigorously defended its policy of non-involvement in politics. The issue of protests and possible boycotts will be addressed next week at a meeting of the IOC executive board, Rogge said.

“We are definitely not happy with protests but we respect them as long as they are not violent,” he said.

France’s Human Rights minister Rama Yade said on Saturday that President Nicolas Sarkozy would not attend the Games’ opening ceremony unless China opened talks with the Dalai Lama.

Rogge said Beijing’s poor air quality might affect athletes’ performance.

“The health of the athletes is absolutely not in danger. There is no danger to their health, (although) it might be that some of them may have a slightly reduced performance,” Rogge told students at a dialogue session.

Marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer, said last month he would not compete in the event because of the poor air quality.

Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world, plans to take about half of its 3.5 million cars off the roads and partially shut down industry in the capital and five surrounding provinces for two months for the Olympics.

Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Robert Woodward

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