Digger: Rogge reluctant to address Chinese whispers

Digger: IOC president Jacques Rogge refused to discuss China's human rights record, which threatens to overshadow Beijing 2008.

Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, appeared to duck questions about China's human rights record when facing the media yesterday. He referred inquiries about the issue, and the country's controversial relations with Sudan, Taiwan and Tibet, to Hein Verbruggen, a senior IOC member and chairman of the Beijing co-ordination commission.

Rogge's curious reluctance to address issues that will be raised repeatedly in the build-up to the Games followed questions about whether China's political stance would overshadow next summer's Games. Twice Rogge referred the matter to Verbruggen, a move that was all the stranger as the president spoke about traffic issues, strictly a matter for his colleague.

China's reluctance to use its influence over Sudan to ease the Darfur crisis brought protests in the US from the actress Mia Farrow, who criticised Steven Spielberg for advising Beijing on the opening ceremony, prompting him to write to the Chinese president. The torch-relay route to be announced today will be equally controversial, with Tibetan exiles protesting on Mount Everest yesterday and Taiwan reluctant to allow the torch route to lead directly from Taipei to mainland China.

Verbruggen offered a stout defence of the IOC's position, maintaining that it is a non-political organisation that has brought positive change to China. Rogge limited himself to a general comment, describing the Games as "a force for good wherever they are staged". A more forceful response will be required as the focus on Beijing 2008 intensifies.

BBC faces China crisis

The BBC is considering an offer of a camera position in Tiananmen Square for use in its news coverage of the Beijing Games. The corporation has not settled on its main position in the Olympic park yet but, along with other broadcasters, has been offered a pitch in the square, site of dissident action by hundreds of thousands of pro...#8209;democracy protestors brutally suppressed by the regime in 1989. Accepting the pitch would be hugely controversial, particularly as the BBC's news website is censored by the authorities and cannot be accessed from most internet connections. Despite the BBC's status as an Olympic rights holder, that ban is expected to remain in place during the Games.

Salzburg tainted by drugs

Salzburg may have come top of many observers' rankings of yesterday's presentations by the cities bidding for the 2014 Winter Games but news of the unprecedented life bans handed down to six Austrian athletes by the IOC came as a huge blow. Attention in the ongoing investigation will now focus on the president of the Austrian Skiing Federation and vice-chairman of the Austrian National Olympic Committee, Peter Schröcksnadel, whose role in the systematic doping exercise is expected to be investigated. Schröcksnadel will come under significant internal pressure to stand down from both his posts to resurrect confidence in the bid.

Accord brings discord

Birmingham is bidding to host the Sport Accord conference in 2011, hoping that the proximity of the event to the London Olympics will attract some of the leading players in world sport to the Midlands. Brian Stocks, head of sport at the city council, has publicly questioned whether London can deliver on its promise to make the 2012 Olympics a truly national event and thinks hosting the event would deliver a blow for the regions. London have told Birmingham they have no objection to the bid but it remains to be seen if the IOC and the sporting federations will be supportive.

City's private fears

The bid by Ray Ranson, left, for Manchester City is understood to be backed by a private equity firm with a track record in backing companies deeply in debt. SISU Capital Private Equity Fund are thought to be Ranson's partner, raising concerns at the club that they are more interested in turning a profit with a heavily leveraged buy-out than in the club's long- term health. paul.kelso@theguardian.com

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Paul Kelso

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