LAUSANNE: The head of the International Olympic Committee has warned against boycotting major sports events, as pressure mounts on Euro 2012 co-hosts Ukraine over its treatment of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said non-attendance at events like the Euro only harmed the competitors, while the long-term effect of boycotts were quickly forgotten.
“Boycotts ultimately turn against those that impose them,” Rogge told AFP in a interview at the committee’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“If anyone will feel the damage of a boycott it is themselves. They are sacrificing a fine generation of young athletes,” he added.
The Ukrainian government has been widely criticised for its treatment of former prime minister Tymoshenko, who was jailed for seven years last October on charges that European Union leaders view as politically-motivated.
A number of European politicians have vowed to stay away from matches being played in Ukraine when the tournament gets under way from June 8, threatening to overshadow the first major football championships to be held behind the former Iron Curtain.
Unlike at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, where the United States notably boycotted the Games after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the tit-for-tat no show of Eastern bloc nations in Los Angeles in 1984, none of the 16 teams has pulled out.
But Germany captain Philipp Lahm has criticised Ukraine over its human rights record.
Rogge said such boycotts served no purpose, adding that the Olympics in Moscow and Los Angeles “went ahead anyway and the countries that weren’t there were quickly forgotten”. Instead, Rogge said the IOC and the prestige of hosting an Olympics can have a positive effect on a country’s social infrastructure, citing the candidacy of Doha for the 2020 Games and how it had lifted a ban on women taking part in sport.
“They had a strong incentive to have women competing because otherwise it would not be chosen to host the Games,” said Rogge.
On the other hand, he made it clear that political statements such as the Argentinian government advertisement showing the country’s field hockey captain training on the disputed Falkland Islands could not be condoned.
Britain went to war with Argentina over sovereignty of the South Atlantic Ocean archipelago after Argentinian troops invaded in 1982: 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers lost their lives in what has been seen as Britain’s last colonial war.
“It (the advertisement) is against the IOC rules and we do not want it to be repeated,” he said. “The Argentinian National Olympic Committee (NOC) is in agreement.”
Meanwhile, 70-year-old Rogge, who replaced Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001 and steps down in September next year, does not believe the London Games will compare unfavourably with Beijing, despite the effects of the global financial crisis. “It may not look like it on television but the Beijing stadium (the Birds Nest) is not sizeably bigger than the one in London or the one in Athens in 2004,” he said. “I see no fundamental difference between London and Beijing or indeed Athens. There will still be 10,500 athletes, 28 sports and 300 events. What is different is the scale and identity of the hosts. Greece is a country of 11 million people but identity-wise they invented the Games.”