July 26 2017, updated 7:09am

Todd vows Games protest over 'abhorrent' actions

Last updated 23:40 17/03/2008
JOHN SELKIRK/Dominion Post
JUST SAY NO: Double Olympic gold medallist Mark Todd atop NZB Gandalf. Todd says he would peacefully protest China's actions in Tibet if he was selected for the Beijing Games.

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Double Olympic gold medallist Mark Todd would peacefully protest against China's "totally abhorrent" actions in Tibet if selected for the Beijing Games.

The move would fly in the face of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC), both of which say that Olympians should refrain from political protests during the Games.

A New Zealand Tibetan community leader yesterday called on Kiwi Olympians to "make a moral stand" by seeking information on Chinese rule in Tibet and either boycotting the Games or protesting during the August Olympics.

Yesterday, unrest spread from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, to outlying regions as the Chinese Government vowed to maintain law and order in the province. ]

Estimates of the number killed by rioting and ethnic attacks in recent days range from 12 to more than 80.

Human rights activists and pro-independence campaigners protested outside Chinese embassies in many world cities.

As some repeated calls for athletes to stay away from the Olympics, Todd, who is attempting a competitive equestrian comeback at 51, said it would be better to attend the Games but "voice your opinion".

"I think you could probably do more while you were there in a peaceful sort of protest," he said.

Asked if he would consider carrying out such a protest, the five-time Olympic medallist said: "Absolutely. I think athletes in general would be obliged to do something like that."

Todd wanted more information on the situation in Tibet but said the events of recent days had left him uneasy.

"It's one of those tricky situations. I'm totally against violence of any sort and I think it is totally abhorrent what they are doing up there," he said.

"In an ideal world, sport wouldn't come into politics, but I know that it does."

The veteran competitor participated in the New Zealand Olympic team's Moscow boycott of 1980, but said he had been given no choice and did not believe the boycott was successful.

"I wish I could remember what that boycott was even about," he said.

Todd said he had not thought about what form his protest might take, but it would be peaceful.

"At this stage, I'm not even going to the Olympics," said Todd, who must still qualify for the Games team.

Equestrian events will be held in more liberal Hong Kong rather than the Chinese capital.

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New Zealand Olympic team chef de mission Dave Currie, who was in Beijing inspecting the athletes' village yesterday, said it was too early to know if the situation in Tibet would present New Zealand athletes with a moral dilemma.

"Clearly, it's difficult for everybody right now," he said.

"Until we see how this unfolds, we can't make much comment. But it clearly is a difficult decision, and we have to see how it unfolds ... it's all very new for everybody."

Last month, the NZOC overturned a decision to make athletes sign contracts banning them from speaking freely while at the Games.

Currie said it was still the preference of team authorities that athletes refrain from political comment.

"The Olympics is about countries of the world coming together to compete," he said.

"The IOC has a view, which we subscribe to, that it is not an apropriate forum to be making comment about race, religion, creed or political stances whatsoever."

Tibetan community spokesman Thuten Kesang said he would like all New Zealand athletes attending the Games educate themselves about the situation in Tibet and speak out about it.

"We'd like it if people consciously make a moral stand on this issue," he said.

Olympic sailboarder and 1992 gold medallist Barbara Kendall said she did not support protesting during what would be her fifth Olympics.

"We are not there to be politically minded. We are there because of sport. I would rather keep it about sport and not politics. My job as an athlete is to prepare and compete," she said.


- The Press

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