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UN Official Says Olympics Promote Peace, Development

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A senior United Nations official has expressed disappointment in the Soviet invasion of Georgia during the Olympic Games in Beijing but says sports can be a powerful force in promoting peace and development. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from the Chinese capital.

The Special Advisor on Sport (for Development and Peace), to the U.N. Secretary-General Wilfried Lemke, says the Olympic community was saddened by the outbreak of fighting in the separatist Georgian enclave, Ossetia, on the opening day of the Olympic Games.

"We feel it and we are very disappointed because that makes a shadow on the Olympics, definitely," he said.

Lemke told reporters Friday in Beijing that although sports does not have the physical power to stop war it can help prevent it by building bridges between communities and encouraging peace and development.

He said athletes can act as role models and noted that many international sports figures work with U.N. agencies to promote public awareness of various social issues.

U.N. officials say China has made great efforts to emphasize environmental sustainability at the Olympics by reducing air pollution and promoting public transportation. And they say it has promoted public awareness of other issues such as health, poverty alleviation, gender equality and HIV/AIDS.

The head of the World Olympians Association, 1968 high-jump gold medalist Richard Fosbury, said the Olympic spirit has also influenced policies of the Chinese government.

"Because they [China] are the host of games the country is changing politically. The doors have begun to open," said Fosbury.

But human rights activists disagree, saying that the Chinese government's desire to avoid controversy has led to a crackdown on dissidents and restrictions on public protests. The Chinese government denies the charge saying it is only preventing what it calls illegal activities from disrupting the Games.
 

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