Video: Reporters struggle to scale China's 'Great Firewall'

updated 7/31/2008 3:41:15 PM ET 2008-07-31T19:41:15

Media censorship, chronic air pollution, doping — IOC president Jacques Rogge and top Olympic officials meeting this weekend have a lot to discuss in their final review before the Beijing Games.

The next month is supposed to showcase China as an open, rising power. Yet the International Olympic Committee and Chinese organizers have been criticized for failing to deliver on pledges of unblocked Internet access, TV reporting freedoms and clean air.

Potential terrorist threats have been given as the reason for a stark security buildup that has smothered tourism in the face of 500,000 troops, local police, commandos and volunteers.

The latest tempest came Thursday when Kevan Gosper, the press commission head of the IOC, said he was surprised to learn that Web sites for Amnesty International along with others dealing with Tibet, the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square and the spiritual group Falun Gong would be blocked to reporters at the Olympics Main Press Center in Beijing.

For months, Gosper, Rogge and others had been saying that the Chinese had agreed to unblock the Web during the games; it is routinely limited for Chinese citizens at other times. But Beijing organizing committee spokesman Sun Wiede said this week that journalists would have what he called “sufficient access” to the Internet.

“I have to accept that I appear to be the fall guy and may be the fall guy,” Gosper said in an interview with AP Television News.

“I suspect an agreement has been reached, or an understanding has been reached,” he said. “It may well have been done by the executive board, done in another place by very senior people in the IOC. It may have taken into consideration new circumstances in this year leading up to the games where there has been quite a lot of trauma around China, and within China” including riots in Tibet, protests during the torch relay and a deadly earthquake in southwestern China.

“This certainly isn’t what we guaranteed the international media and it’s certainly contrary to normal circumstances of reporting on Olympic Games.”

IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies linked some of the problems to misunderstandings, but said late Thursday the IOC had met with the Chinese organizers and they will fix the problem.

“Having understood yesterday that there were difficulties with access to some sites, which obviously goes against our desire to always have media having access they need, we understand that the organizers tomorrow will confirm how they have remedied the situation,” she said.

“It’s important to stress that there has not at any stage been a deal where the IOC has entered into an agreement with China to censor the internet. There has been no deal with China to censor the internet,” Davies added.

She said there had been some early signs things were changing, with the BBC’s Chinese Web site and others now accessible.

Rogge arrived Thursday in Beijing, but declined to speak with reporters at the airport. He’s likely to face sustained questioning from colleagues and reporters, having said repeatedly that foreign media would be able to work freely in China.

Beijing’s smoggy air has yet to clear after nearly two weeks of drastic pollution controls, which included removing half the cars from the city’s roads.

Officials are ready to apply additional “emergency measures,” that would include closing 100 more factories in Beijing, and about 115 more in the neighboring city of Tianjin and surrounding Hebei province.

Rogge has warned that outdoor endurance events of more than one hour would be postponed if air quality were poor.

U.S. men’s water polo coach Terry Schroeder said he noticed the pollution immediately when he arrived this week. “Some of our guys have inherent breathing issues, and to put them in this environment — it’s worrisome for sure,” Schroeder said.

The IOC executive board opens a two-day meeting Saturday at a central Beijing hotel, followed by a three-day session of the full general assembly starting Tuesday.

The IOC meetings will also address the anti-doping program for the games, which Olympic officials describe as the most rigorous and comprehensive in sporting history. About 4,500 drug tests will be conducted, including for EPO and human growth hormone, with many athletes targeted for unannounced out-of-competition controls.

“Every athlete, the clean ones and the not clean ones, should clearly know that we mean business,” Rogge told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “The IOC will do everything that is humanly possible to have the cleanest possible games.”

The specter of doping rose again Thursday when seven female track and field athletes from Russia — including a two-time world champion — along with two Romanian middle-distance runners were accused of cheating.

This weekend, the issue of doping-tainted Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou could be on the IOC’s agenda, with officials assessing her eligibility for Beijing.

The 100-meter runner was forced out of the 2004 Athens Olympics after she and fellow Greek athlete Kostas Kenteris missed drug tests on the eve of the opening ceremony and later claimed to have been involved in a motorcycle accident. They both later served two-year bans.

The 33-year-old Thanou has been named to the Greek team for Beijing based on her qualifying times, but the IOC has said it will review her case to determine whether she can compete.

The IOC also is reviewing whether to reallocate the medals stripped from American athlete Marion Jones after her doping admissions. Jones won five medals, including three gold, at the 2000 Olympics.

Standing to move up to the gold in the 100 is Thanou, who finished second behind Jones. The IOC is reluctant to award the medal to Thanou and could decide to leave the medal spot vacant.

Jones also won gold in the 200 meters and 4x400-meter relay, and bronze in the long jump and 4x100-meter relay. Her seven relay teammates were stripped of their medals by the IOC in April.

Also unsettled are the gold medals won by the U.S. men’s team in the 4x400-meter relay in Sydney. Team member Antonio Pettigrew admitted in court in May that he was doping at the time, meaning that he and the rest of the runners — including Michael Johnson — face losing their medals.

During the meetings, the IOC will also receive progress reports from organizers of the next three Olympics — the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, 2012 Summer Olympics in London and 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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