German Athletes Explore Olympic Protest Options | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.03.2008
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German Athletes Explore Olympic Protest Options

German athletes heading for the Olympics are exploring symbolic gestures such as wearing orange bathrobes -- the color of Tibetan monks -- to express their protest over China's actions in the Himalayan region.

Chinese actions in Tibet have provoked anti-Beijing protests all over the world

Chinese actions in Tibet have provoked anti-Beijing protests all over the world

News reports on Sunday, March 30, quoted water polo player Soeren Mackeben as saying that his team is considering wearing "bath robes in orange, the colour of the (Tibetan) monks."

Mackeben said wearing the robes was not compulsory as they are not part of the official German Olympic kit for the August 8-24 Games.

He insisted he will not breach the Olympic Charter and express his opinion on Tibet outside Olympic areas in the Chinese capital.

A German network of athletes has the same in mind with a silicon armband in green and blue with the writing "Sport for Human Rights."

"We will express our protest during the Games not in reference to Tibet but in a general way concerning abiding to human rights and freedom of press," said a statement on the network's website. "That is because the Olympic Charter outlaws any kind of political propaganda at the Olympics."

Refusing to turn a blind eye

An unidentified athlete wears a tee-shirt inviting all to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing

China is hopeing to present itself in the best possible light during the games

Canoeing Olympic bronze-medallist Stefan Pfannmoeller, one of the initiators of the network, said that athletes can not turn a blind eye to the systematic abuse of human rights and freedom of press.

"As athletes we carry a big responsibility and must show it. If not us, who else?," he said.

But the issue is delicate as athletes face punishment from the International Olympic Committee in the case of protest action in the Olympic areas.

The Olympic Charter says in article 51 that "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

Violations can lead to disqualification and loss of Olympic accreditation.

American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked out of the 1968 Games after their Black Power protest at the 200m victory ceremony. Less than two weeks ago Serbian swimmer and gold-medal winner Milorad Cavic had to leave the European swim championships after wearing a T-shirt with the writing "Kosovo is Serbia."

A thin line

An activist protests with a poster against the violation of human rights in Tibet

Olympic rules must be observed

The incidents show that athletes will walk a thin line with any kind of visible or spoken protests at venues and other areas.

German lawyer Dirk-Reiner Martens, who is one of the judges at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) told Die Welt daily that this is necessary. He said that he did not envy his colleagues in Beijing because of possible tough decisions to make on ethically impeccable athletes, but insisted that "anyone who competes voluntarily at the Olympics must respect the rules."

Sebastian Schulte, a spokesman of the German Olympic team and part of the rowing eighth, said that athletes will not overstep the rules.

"I will not undermine the chances of my crew by voicing my opinion in a careless way, but I will express myself within the rules.

"Sport can not be misused as the last resort to continue a war with other methods, but as mature athletes we will look closely into what the Olympic Charter allows and use our options within this framework for our protests," said Schulte.

EU rules out boycott

Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel

EU will continue to monitor the human rights situation in China, said Rupel

In a break with tradition, EU foreign ministers at an informal meeting in Slovenia over the weekend issued a statement calling for an end to violence in Tibet, but ruled out a boycott of the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

The 27-member bloc asked that "arrested persons be treated in conformity with international standards" and called for "substantive and constructive dialog which addresses core issues like the preservation of the Tibetan language, culture, religion and traditions," the statement said.

The ministers did not wish to discuss suggestions that the EU as a whole should boycott the games' opening ceremony, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

But Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who chaired the meeting, did not rule out further statements and other actions should the situation deteriorate.

"If something else happens in the future, we'll return to the subject," he said.

The EU will "continue to pay close attention to the human-rights situation in China," the statement concluded.

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