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IOC weighing end of global torch relays

/ Source: The Associated Press

The International Olympic Committee is continuing to consider whether to eliminate international torch relays in the wake of the protests which disrupted the Beijing flame’s global tour.

IOC president Jacques Rogge said Tuesday the committee will always retain its tradition of lighting the Olympic flame in Ancient Olympia and starting the torch relay in Greece.

However, he reiterated the IOC might do away with future global relays and limit the flame processions to domestic routes within the Olympic host countries.

“We will have to reflect with calmness and tranquility on the future of the Olympic torch relay,” Rogge said in his opening speech at the three-day IOC session on the eve of the Beijing Games.

Protesters critical of China’s human rights record hounded the flame in London, Paris and San Francisco earlier this year.

“We respect protests and freedom of expression, but violence is against the Olympic spirit,” Rogge said. “We believe in the strong symbolism of the torch relay.”

He noted the relay was also disrupted in Italy before the 2006 Winter Games in Turin by anti-globalization demonstrators and protesters opposed to road construction projects in the region.

“It is illusory to think the simple elimination of the international relay will make all the problems disappear,” Rogge said. “The torch relay attracts the media, and the media attracts the protesters. To make it only a national relay will not solve all the problems.”

Senior Chinese IOC member He Zhenliang said he was “very disappointed” by the anti-China protests, adding the Olympic flame was a powerful symbol to unite the world’s youth to compete in peace and harmony.

“After these incidents, we are convinced more than ever that we need to cherish and preserve the flame,” he said. “We must make all efforts to make sure these incidents are never repeated again. It is a hope. I don’t know if it will become a reality.”

The torch relay has passed off peacefully since coming to China, and the flame is currently in Sichuan province, where a powerful earthquake in May killed nearly 70,000 people and left 5 million homeless. The relay will culminate in Beijing with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at Friday night’s opening ceremony.

“I am convinced the games will be a great success and will be well organized,” Rogge said. “These games will leave a fantastic legacy for China.”

Rogge also cited the IOC’s anti-doping efforts in Beijing, including a record 4,500 doping tests and a new rule which bans athletes from the next Olympics if they receive a doping ban of at least six months. He mentioned the “new danger” of betting and match-fixing, noting that the IOC has set up a special unit in Beijing in collaboration with Interpol to monitor any irregular activities.

Rogge outlined the financial strength of the IOC, which has reserves of $353 million and is generating $866 million in revenue from global sponsorships in the 2005-08 cycle and forecasts $1 billion from the next four-year cycle. Television rights fees for the 2010 and 2012 Olympics are bringing in $3.8 billion.

Also Tuesday, U.S. member Anita DeFrantz, who chairs the women and sport commission, chastised the Olympic movement for failing to meet goals on promoting women to leadership positions.

“Sadly we appear to be moving backward,” she said.

The IOC set a goal in 1996 of having women make up 20 percent of the membership. As of today, only 16 of the 110 members are women — six short of the target.

In addition, 23 of the world’s 205 national Olympic committees have no women on their leadership bodies. DeFrantz said four international sports federations — FIFA, archery, baseball and bobsled — also have no women in the top roles.

DeFrantz proposed an amendment to the Olympic Charter requiring national Olympic bodies to include women on their executive committees.

Rogge said a recent survey found the promotion of women in the Olympic movement was the No. 2 priority behind the fight against doping.

“I think this is very important,” he told DeFrantz. “We will assist you in every possible way.”

Former Namibian sprinter Frankie Fredericks, a multiple Olympic silver medalist in the 100 and 200 meters, was elected president of the IOC athletes’ commission and will become a member of the powerful executive board. He succeeds Ukrainian pole vault great Sergei Bubka, who is set to be elected as a full IOC member in Beijing.