Rogge Admits It's Crisis Time

APRogge speaking Thursday in Beijing.
BEIJING -- International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said Thursday that the turmoil surrounding the Beijing torch relay and the politically charged buildup to the Summer Games posed a "crisis" for the Olympic movement.

Rogge urged China to respect its "moral engagement" to improve human rights and to fulfill promises of greater media freedom. He reaffirmed the right of free speech for athletes at the Beijing Games.

At the same time, Rogge expressed relief that the San Franciso leg of the torch relay passed off without major incident, and had "fortunately" avoided much of the disruption that had marred the London and Paris legs.

"It was, however, not the joyous party we had wished it to be," he said.

Rogge declared that the rest of the international route would not be cut short or canceled.

"This scenario is definitely not on the agenda," Rogge told a news conference. "There is no scenario of either interrupting or bringing [the torch] back directly to Beijing."

The San Francisco parade route was changed and shortened to prevent disruptions by massive crowds of protesters. The planned closing ceremony at the waterfront was canceled and moved to San Francisco International Airport, where the flame was put directly onto a plane and not displayed.

The turmoil over the torch relay and the growing international criticism of China's policies on Tibet and Darfur and overall human rights record has turned the Beijing Games into one of the most contentious in recent history and presented the IOC with one its toughest tests.

"It is a crisis, there is no doubt about that," Rogge said. "But the IOC has weathered many bigger storms."

He cited the attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the boycotts in 1976, 1980 and 1984.

Asked whether he had second thoughts about awarding the games to Beijing seven years ago, Rogge said "it is very easy with hindsight to criticize the decision," but insisted that Beijing had "clearly the best bid" and offered the strong pull of taking the Olympics to a country with one-fifth of the world's population.

When Beijing was bidding for the games, Rogge noted, Chinese officials said the Olympics would help advance social change, including human rights. He called it a "moral engagement" and stressed there was no "contractual promise whatsoever" on human rights in the official host city contract.

"I would definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement," he said.

The IOC leader insisted that "a number of important points have been met" on human rights, including a new Chinese law enacted on Jan. 1, 2007, that removed many restrictions on foreign journalists. But he said the law had not been fully implemented and he was urging Chinese officials to do so "as soon as possible."

Rogge refused to be drawn on the prospect of top world leaders snubbing the Beijing opening ceremony. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not be attending the opening, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is considering staying away. U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton have called on President George W. Bush to boycott the ceremony.

"Politicians have to make their decisions themselves," Rogge said. "The IOC will not intervene in this matter."

The IOC had previously not ruled out the possibility of suspending or scrapping the rest of the international leg of the relay, but with San Francisco out of the way, officials vowed to push on.

The torch is now headed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then to a dozen other countries. The relay is expected to face demonstrations in New Delhi, India, and possibly elsewhere on its 21-stop, six-continent tour.

Rogge said "all options are open" on torch relays for future Olympics, including restricting the procession to inside the territory of the host country. Rogge said the IOC would address that issue later this year -- ''not in the heat of this week."

///BLOB// Chinese paramilitary police will not be allowed to run alongside the Olympic torch when it passes through the Australian capital Canberra on April 24, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd said Thursday, after the heavy-handed tactics of the men bright blue tracksuits drew criticism in earlier legs. Indonesia, meanwhile, said it would significantly shorten its leg.

"The total security needs of the Olympic torch during its visit to Australia will be provided by the Australian security authorities," Rudd said at a news conference in Beijing, after meeting his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao.