Changing China

Giant on the move

Bach on Beijing

June 26, 2008

DOSB president Bach addresses the media during a news conference in FrankfurtI caught up with IOC vice president Thomas Bach for an interview the other day in his Berlin office.

Bach has been one of the most eloquent opponents of any boycott of the Summer Olympics in Beijing — leading a lightning pro-Games campaign earlier this year when tensions in Tibet flared.

The man who won a gold medal in fencing for West Germany in 1976 in Montreal was more than happy to talk openly in his soft southern German accent about a wide range of issues.  

But the smile disappeared from Bach’s face when I asked about comments last week from Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s Chinese Communist party boss: “We will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai Lama clique.”  

Bach had already seen the remarks made in conjunction with the Olympic torch relay through the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.  

“I don’t consider that to be an acceptable formulation, especially at the Olympic torch relay,” Bach said. “It’s essential that one carefully chooses the right words — there is after all a dialogue going on now with representatives of the Dalai Lama. And that evidently did not happen here. That is not the type of language that is appropriate for the dialogue and for the Olympic torch relay.”  

Bach said German Olympians would be free to express their opinions about any issues at all in China — but political demonstrations are forbidden.

“One has to respect the position of the athletes, and by that I mean any position they have.”  

Bach is certain the Olympics have already contributed to a great opening of China and believes the effects will be lasting.

“The Games are definitely contributing to an opening in China. There’s already been a considerable development and the Games will further that development. When 25,000 journalists, hundreds of thousands of overseas visitors and 10,000 athletes from 205 nations come into a country and communicate with the people, all that will leave an impact on Chinese society.  

Chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region Phuntsok and Tibet Communist Party chief Zhang take part in Olympic torch relay in TibetBut Bach acknowledges that the IOC has little say in what happens in China after the Olympics are over.  

“We’re not the supra-national government of any country or the world. What’s important is that the Games make a contribution to promote communication, understanding and dialogue — and on those counts to leave a lasting impact on Chinese society. That is the task at hand for the Games and that goal will be fulfilled.”

Picture of Bach (top) by Alex Grimm, Zhang (bottom, left) by Nir Elias

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see