French Athletes Barred From Wearing Badge

PARIS -- French Olympic Committee chief Henri Serandour has ruled out allowing his country's athletes to wear a badge at the Beijing Games that reads "For a Better World," angering athletes and others who want to express their views on human rights.

The decision to ban the French badge "puts into question the fundamental values of the Olympic spirit," French pole vaulter Romain Mesnil said Tuesday on Europe-1 radio.

Serandour said that with more than 200 countries at the games, some of whose athletes have their own causes, "We can't wear a badge for this cause, a badge for that cause."

"We are going to respect the [Olympic] Charter."

French Sports Minister Bernard Laporte said he found it "regrettable" that athletes would be forbidden to wear the badge, noting that the words "for a better world" are inscribed in the charter, too.

"This badge is not aggressive at all, on the contrary," he said Tuesday.

The French chapter of Amnesty International said it "deplored" the decision announced by Serandour.

"This badge, in encouraging the respect of human dignity, was in conformity with the values of the Olympic Charter," the group said in a statement.

The head of the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, which has been pushing for a boycott of the opening ceremony, said the decision represented a slap in the face for athletes.

"What a lack of courage," Robert Menard said on France-Info radio.

"We welcomed this initiative, stressing that they could have gone further ... But even this minimum isn't accepted by the Olympic movement," said Menard.

Meanwhile, David Douillet, a two-time gold medalist in judo, played down Serandour's announcement, saying that "wearing the French badge had never been agreed to."

Following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Douillet said discussions were under way with the International Olympic Committee about the possibility of creating an international badge featuring the Olympic rings and a quote from the charter, but not naming France or restricted to French athletes.

"What we want to wear is a badge that would be worn by an American, by an Ethiopian, by a Lebanese, by any nationality."

n Chinese guards traveling with the Olympic torch could face arrest if they lay hands on any protesters during its visit to Australia's capital next week, said Ted Quinlan, chairman of the Canberra relay task force, on Wednesday.

Explaing that the so-called torch attendants would have no responsibility for security, Quinlan told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that "they could be subject to arrest in fact if they laid a hand on somebody."