Young German athletes were in China on a visit when the current crisis in Tibet erupted. The intention of their visit was to get to know Chinese culture and people and to see the preparations for the August Olympic Games. After their return from China to Germany they shared their experiences with the press.
Acrobats perform at the Beijing 2008 Olympic torch lighting ceremony
The timing of the meeting of young German and Chinese athletes couldn't have been more crucial. With the Tibet crisis in the headlines, a hundred 18 to 27 years old German athletes were on an official tour from Beijing to Shanghai, organized by the powerful All China Youth Federation. The German Olympic committee's president, Thomas Bach, had urged the German delegation to question their Chinese hosts about political and cultural differences ahead of August's Olympic Games.
This proved to be a difficult task. Hockey player Stephan Haumann and Footballer Daniel Baumann, recall their meetings with their fellow Chinese athletes: "It was mentioned sometimes or we tried to hint at the situation, but actually we didn't get a chance to discuss these things in detail. And if we asked directly the usual reply was: 'I don't know' and that was the end of the discussion."
Daniel Baumann adds: "I had been in Shanghai for six months and got to know some people well. But whenever I tried to talk about problems there was no response -- the Chinese don't discuss problems"
Benjamin Volkmann, representative of the German Sports Youth, was more successful -- he discussed the Tibet situation with an official from the Chinese foreign office:
"I think they have a problem keeping the country together and then they disregard human rights. That's not ok.. But then one has to accept that China only began to open up 30 years ago and a country of 1.3 billion can't completely change within 30 years. In Europe it took centuries until we respected human rights or achieved today's legal standards."
After being in China for a week Hockey player Stephan Haumann is convinced that politics and sports are inseparable:
"There was a large gymnasium which had lots of pictures of Chinese athletes hanging at the walls along with communist symbols like the hammer and sickle. We inquired about them and were told that these symbols were there to encourage the Chinese athletes to perform better. That's something you wouldn't expect or find in Germany."
Boycott no solution
Even though the question of a possible boycott of the Olympic Games was not raised with their Chinese hosts, it was a recurrent topic in discussions among the German athletes. Germany's female youth champion in weightlifting, Stepahnie Jakob, summarises the result of these discussions:
"Boycott he Olympic Games? No, actually all of us agreed that this would be out of question for us. Because Sports connects people and it wouldn't make sense to boycott this, too. It would prevent us from meeting and talking to each other. For me, the idea of a boycott doesn't make any sense at all."
This is also the official line of the German Olympic committee, which regards the games in China as a chance to encourage more dialogue. Now it's up to China to respond.