- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

BEIJING | Despite the thorny issues of politics, pollution and media freedoms, IOC president Jacques Rogge said Saturday he has no regrets about holding the Olympics in China and predicted the “magic of the games” will take over once the competition begins.

Less than a week before the opening ceremony, Rogge addressed a number of the issues that have made the Beijing Games among the most politically contentious in history.

The International Olympic Committee has come under fire for failing to get China to live up to promises to improve its human rights record, clean up Beijing’s noxious smog and provide unfettered Internet access to the media.

But Rogge compared the situation to the rocky buildup to the Athens Olympics four years ago, when there were last-minute concerns over whether the venues would be ready on time.

“It’s a totally different ball game,” he said at a news conference. “Today we have absolutely no concerns about the organization. No regrets. Come the 9th of August, the magic of the games and the flawless organization will take over.”

Rogge already hailed the athletes’ village as the “best ever.”

“I’ve never seen a village like this,” said Rogge, who competed in three Olympics in sailing and stays in the village during the games.

Peppered with questions on China’s censorship of some Internet sites, Rogge insisted the IOC had always pushed for the “fullest access possible” and said he personally intervened to get organizers to lift some of the restrictions this week.

“I’m not going to apologize for something the IOC is not responsible for,” Rogge said. “We are not running the Internet in China. Chinese authorities are running the Internet in China.”

Rogge reiterated that athletes in Beijing will have freedom of expression and will not be barred from criticizing China’s policies on human rights, Tibet, Darfur or other issues - as long as they do so away from the Olympic village and other official sites.

He said no political or religious demonstrations will be allowed in the village, which will house some 10,000 athletes from a record 205 countries and territories.

“If we allow political propaganda, it’s the end of the harmony of the Olympic village and the end of the harmony of the games,” he said.

Rogge dismissed suggestions that many athletes will skip Friday’s opening ceremony because they are staying away from Beijing until the last moment to avoid the air pollution. He said he expects 7,000 to 9,000 athletes to march in the ceremony.

On other issues, Rogge said the IOC’s hard-line policy on doping was succeeding in weeding out drug cheats before the games through increased unannounced, out-of-competition testing across the world.

He said the IOC would wait for more information from the BALCO steroid investigation before reallocating any of the medals that have been taken away from American athletes competing at the 2000 Sydney Games for doping.

Marion Jones was stripped of her five medals, and her teammates on two relays also lost their medals, following her admission of drug use. On Saturday, the IOC stripped the entire U.S. men’s 1,600-meter relay team of gold in the wake of Antonio Pettigrew’s doping confessions.

More than 30 athletes would be affected by a reshuffle of all the medals. Rogge said the IOC was not constrained by an eight-year statute of limitations, saying the clock starts running only when an investigation is opened.

“We want to render justice when all the factors are known,” he said. “In the midterm or in a few months, I’m sure everything will be finalized and those athletes who are clean will be rewarded,” he said.

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