Will any senior Czech politicians attend Beijing Olympics?

While the Olympics in Beijing are still over four months away, the recent unrest in Tibet has brought the issue of how the world should deal with China – and the games – to the fore. The Czech minister of education and sport is set to boycott the Beijing Olympics, while the prime minister has just issued a statement saying he will let the cabinet decide whether he should attend. With the president staying home for health reasons, will any senior Czech politicians actually go to Beijing? And what would it mean if they don't?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK The Czech Republic’s minister of education, sport and youth, Ondřej Liška, said last week that he was going to decline an official invitation to attend the Olympic Games in Beijing this August. The Green Party politician said he would not wish to help legitimise a Chinese regime that imprisons people for their beliefs even with his “small” presence.

On Wednesday, President Václav Klaus made headlines when he announced on his website that he wasn’t going to the Olympics, though it soon transpired he wasn’t planning a boycott – he is going to undergo a hip operation at that time.

Václav KlausVáclav Klaus Nevertheless, Mr Klaus did express disagreement with the politicisation of sport and somewhat disparaged the idea of staying away, saying the absence of a politician from the opening ceremony would hardly frighten the Chinese authorities. The Czech president also said that those who voted in the 1990s to award the Olympics to Beijing could not be surprised by the state of China today.

Now Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has entered the fray, saying in a statement released Thursday that the Czech cabinet will vote on whether he attends the opening ceremony, on the basis of a special report he has commissioned. Mr Topolánek also reiterated his opposition to Chinese repression in Tibet.

If it transpires that no top ranking Czech politicians actually attend the Olympics, what would that mean for the Czech team? Would it be embarrassing? That’s a question I put to Petr Hrubec, the general secretary of the Czech Olympic Committee.

“Yes, of course. It’s not their obligation of course – it’s their will, or we can say good will, or their interest in sports and to present themselves at the Olympic Games. And I think it’s also a good example for our athletes – that they will know that our main political representatives are there and crossing their fingers for them. But of course if they don’t go that’s their free will and it’s their free opinion, to go or not to go. Of course we will be glad if they will go and be there, as they are at almost every Olympic Games.”

As for Czech athletes, the most vocal critic of the Chinese regime to date has probably been javelin thrower Barbora Špotáková. However, she and the rest of the Czech team have been warned off any kind of protest. This week the chairman of the Czech Olympic Committee, Milan Jirásek, said they would all would receive a copy of the Olympic Charter, which forbids political propaganda in the sporting arena. Mr Jirásek said he wanted to protect Czech athletes from what he called utopianism.