Giant on the move
I 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.”
At an early press conference today the novel inclusion of information we hadn’t heard before briefly raised spirits in what has become quite a downbeat media camp.
As the weekend snowstorms destroyed the careful preparations the Chinese had made on the mountain and a second week in Tibet became an inevitability, there has been a lot of talk about going home. Not just from journalists, either. Many of the officials who travelled with us from Beijing or joined us at Lhasa airport barely attempt to disguise their low spirits any more. I don’t know whether the cause is the altitude, the cold, the increasingly predictable diet, the lack of showers or just day after day of telling news-hungry journalists that there is no news. One of the senior officials told me again today that he thought we were getting “closer and closer” to “our goal”, while another said he thought our fond farewells would not be not too far away.
At last, 11 of us did get onto a plane to Lhasa last Friday. It was soon clear that while the Tibetan authorities were prepared to let us in, this was by no means going to be a free-ranging reporting assignment.
The hotel ‘near Lhasa airport’ that we had been promised turned out to be 300 kilometres away in Shigatse (3,900m).