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Culture

Politics Doesn't Belong at Olympics, Says UN Sport Advisor

UN Special Advisor on Sport Willi Lemke said an Olympic boycott wouldn't achieve anything and would just hurt the athletes. The IOC is the wrong address for human rights issues, he added.

Olympic torch

The Olympics are, above all, a festival for the athletes, said Lemke

DW-WORLD.DE: Mr. Lemke, does the United Nations consider the Olympic Games to be endangered by the conflict in Tibet?

Willi Lemke: The United Nations wants the Olympic Games in China to go peacefully and in the Olympic spirit. We want the games to take place in a way that brings people together and promotes the UN's Millennium Development Goals. That's why we'll be closely observing what happens in China over the next weeks and months.

What are the aims of the UN Millennium Goals?

Willi Lemke

Lemke said the UN doesn't support an Olympic boycott

There are eight development goals that should be reached by the year 2015. One of them is fighting poverty in the world. Education for everyone, equality, climate and environmental protection, and human rights are also included.

Human rights are not just a burning topic in China but in the whole world. Of course, the focus is on China right now because of the Olympic Games. That's why the United Nations is interested in the progress that's been made there in the last few months and years. But the developments of the last months have also raised a lot of new questions.

What position does the UN take in discussions about a possible boycott of the Olympic Games?

We cannot endorse a boycott; we're of the same opinion as the International Olympic Committee. A boycott would affect the athletes most of all, which would be unthinkable for us.

The United Nations very much wants it to be a big celebration for the athletes. But sports always take place within a society. The soccer World Cup in Germany, for example, was a grandiose success, not just from an athletic but also a political point of view. Germany presented soccer in a wonderful way -- and it's just the same with China. Everyone was aware of China's form of government when the IOC awarded them the games.

Fan with face painted in colors of German flag

Lemke compared the Olympics to the World Cup

A boycott would above all affect the athletes from all over the world who have trained for the event over the past few years. Besides, similar boycotts have never achieved anything relevant in the past. There definitely won't be a majority at the IOC or at the UN who support a boycott of the games.

What can athletes do against human rights violations?

Unfortunately, human rights are violated in many countries in the world. It's wrong to push this problem off onto the IOC. These issues should be brought up with political bodies, human rights organizations and the UN.

I think it's the wrong approach to demand that sports organizations solve these political problems just a few weeks before the Olympic Games. But it is the view of the IOC that the athletes -- as responsible citizens -- have the right to express themselves on political issues.

We don't want to silence the athletes. But political topics shouldn't be discussed in the context of a sports competition.

International regulations have been laid down to ensure that the event locations remain free from demonstrations. It should be a festival for the athletes, not just in terms of sports but also as a sign of friendship between nations. When 25,000 journalists and lots of athletes from around the world meet in Beijing, there will be many possibilities for communication.

Man carrying two buckets walks by a poster with the Olympic rings

The Olympics should be a success for China, said Lemke

What can the UN Special Advisor on Sport do to help make the Olympic Games a success?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has given me three tasks. First, I am to advocate sports as an instrument to promote development and peace and represent the interests of sports and, above all, the secretary general, in the UN. Secondly, I should play a representative role. When Ban Ki-moon isn't able to participate in large sports events, I will take his place, accompany or advise him.

Thirdly, I should serve as a mediator between the media, the International Olympic Committee, the United Nations and the event organizers. The Olympic Games should be a success for the Chinese and for the whole world. But the games aren't just an event for the Chinese, but also for the sports world and the International Olympic Committee.

We want to bring people together and not draw them apart.

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