Despite criticism from human rights campaigners, the International Olympic Committee gave itself a big pat on the back Wednesday for awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing.
In a report to the IOC, the committee's chief evaluator and coordinator for the 2008 Olympics insisted that the games produced "lasting legacies" for Beijing and its people.
"I am more convinced than ever that the games have and will prove to be a positive catalyst for change in China," said Hein Verbruggen, who led both the IOC's evaluation commission for the 2008 Games and its coordination commission.
The former IOC member's 28-minute report made no mention of the arrests and harassment of dissidents before and during the games, protests that were violently crushed in Tibet, forced evictions to clear the way for Olympic construction or other abuses documented by human rights groups.
"Whatever is being said about Beijing 2008, let's remember that the Olympic Games remained fundamentally a force for good and a catalyst for collaboration and change," Verbruggen said.
"Awarding the games to China and allowing the Chinese citizens to welcome the world was the best path to continued dialogue between cultures and civilizations. Building cultural bridges will remain one of the most valuable legacies of these games. The IOC's members decision to award the games to Beijing in 2008 has proved to be the right choice."
He added: "To those who have criticized us on human rights issues, I can argue that the games have elevated international dialogue on such issues."
However, Verbruggen said heavy police security in Beijing took some shine off the games.
"Ensuring a festive atmosphere in some areas proved challenging," he said. "That was particularly true in the Olympic Green, where more people should have been welcomed and more activities planned. While security, of course, is a top priority at the games, it needs to be correctly balanced with public participation so as not to dampen the party mood that should exist."
Large protests against China's policies on human rights and Tibet dogged the passage of the Olympic flame during its relay around the world before the Beijing Games, particularly in London, Paris and San Francisco. Verbruggen said the IOC must learn from this "unfortunate pinnacle of public criticism and misuse of games symbols," adding that such actions could tarnish the Olympic brand. The next two games, in Vancouver and London, are doing national relays only.
"Many groups tried to use the games' unparalleled platform to promote their own causes. Let's be realistic, this will always be the case and as a result our brand can sometimes be tainted by wrongly targeted campaigns or demonstrations," Verbruggen said.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said this week that he wants to work with human rights groups to help the committee better understand such issues. But he also made clear that the IOC intends to limit itself to human rights concerns within sports only.
Verbruggen said the IOC must better manage expectations of what it can realistically do.
"Although we care very much for all the ills of the world, we must remain realistic and realize that our influence lies in areas connected to sport and the Olympic Games," he said.
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