Rogge promises to press Palestinian 'freedom' issues with Israelis
KEIR RADNEDGE in Ramallah / Sports Features Communications
WEST BANK, Oct 05: Jacques Rogge intends to bring “the unanimous voice of world sport” to bear on the Israeli authorities who hinder the free movement of Palestinian sportsmen and women and block the delivery of sports equipment.
Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, issued this undertaking during his first formal visit to the West Bank. The 15-strong IOC party arrived in Ramallah by two helicopters from Amman where Rogge had spent Monday with the Jordanian government and sports leaders.
His ‘team’ – including senior IOC figures including Mario Pescante, Nawal El Moutawakel and Sheikh Al Sabah – was escorted by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on visits to by the Yasser Arafat mausoleum and the Amaari refugee complex including its sports and social club.
Later they watched Palestine beat Jordan 2-0 in an Olympic friendly in Al-Ram and Rogge laid the cornerstone of the new Palestinian Olympic Committee headquarters.
He also met sports officials led by Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and football federation. Rajoub had made no secret of his hope that Rogge would speak up against Israeli restrictions on sport in the West Bank and Gaza.
The IOC president’s response would have been all he hoped.
In a press conference statement and in answer to questions on the issue, Rogge said: “We have discussed the difficulties for [Palestinian] sport to organise and compete in international competitions and the IOC will seek ways to alleviate the problems of the obstacles of the circulation of athletes and goods that have to be imported.
Autonomy of action
“The position of the IOC is that we always say that sports organisations must be supported by governments and public authorities. Politicians have the responsibility to support sport for the youth of their countries but, at the same time, public authorities and politicians must respect the autonomy of the sports movement.
“So . . . we are going to speak to people who can help us in allieviating these obstacles and we are going to develop this in the coming days. You can be sure that the IOC is very committed to supporting this cause of allieviating these obstacles.”
He said that addressing the issue of free circulation of athletes and sports equipment in and around the West Bank and Gaza was “as important as our bilateral support of the National Olympic Committees and we will focus our efforts on removing the obstacles.”
Asked what that meant, in practical terms, Rogge said that in the next few days he would raise the issue with the National Olympic Committee of Israel and with the Israeli authorities.
He added: “We can bring the unanimous voice of the world of sport to ask political authorities to remove obstacles to free circulation. The IOC is a sports organisation, it is not a political or sovereign organisation. The IOC has only the power of persuasion . . . but I will try to persuade the people I meet.”
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