When will athletes back out of the Olympics?

Written by by Tereasa Bellamy, CNN Beijing, China

The International Olympic Committee faces a perilous time this year as it tries to reconcile both Olympic demands and growing concerns over the safety of venues and athletes ahead of the summer Games in Beijing.

There has been a near-constant drip of stories about international athletes boycotting this year’s games, from a Russian track star to a senior European IOC member. The most high-profile is 100-meter world record holder David Rudisha, who pulled out of the Olympics earlier this year after a doping report linked him to an international scandal.

Some in the international community also question whether athletes will come to Beijing after a newspaper in Shanghai — hometown of Mayor Wang Anshun — published a front-page editorial calling for it to be renamed the “Chinese Olympics” in reaction to the French leadership’s refusal to attend this year’s opening ceremony.

“The status of China as a global super power, its demands on the Olympic movement and its police state complex have provoked considerable frustration and disgust amongst Western governments,” the article said.

More problematic perhaps is the case of Austrian IOC member Wolfgang Berndt, who has been accused of pressuring Austrian prosecutors to drop an investigation into doping by Chinese track star Gong Lijiao. He was eventually let off by the Austrian public prosecutor.

In the run-up to the games, more athletes have pulled out, raising calls for the IOC to take an even harder line in enforcing the sport’s anti-doping code.

Gold medal winner Mo Farah backed off from competing after steroid allegations surfaced earlier this year, and triple Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps declined an invitation to Beijing to play in a charity game that may have been another blow to the games.

But the worst may be yet to come. Olympians from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, and South Africa have all recently called for a boycott to be launched if Beijing does not ratify the WHO’s recent declaration on neglected tropical diseases (NDTD).

Australia — the country with the most athletes planning to attend the Games — has pushed hardest to have the IOC enforce its threat to withdraw the games if the resolution is not met by September 1.

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said the IOC had previously suspended the Beijing 2008 games if sanctions had not been met by September 1.

“We don’t commit ourselves on sanctions and timescales and so it is not about, ‘We will or we won’t,’ but we do state that if those measures are not successful within the timeframes we have foreseen, then the games go ahead,” Adams said in an email.

“Our absolute priority is to make sure that the spirit of the IOC Charter is upheld and that we do everything possible to make sure that all those participating … get the best possible experience.”

According to NDD expert Ted Emerson, if athletes have not yet taken themselves out of the competition schedule, it’s likely that they will get further briefings on the NDD issue ahead of the Games, as well as push back decisions to where they can compete.

“These athletes are considering a boycott; they may have already made the decision and are waiting on new information to make that determination,” Emerson said.

“They will get information from the IOC on Sept. 1 on the status of the NDD resolution. They will likely hear from the IOC and they will determine if a boycott is needed.”

The NDD is a classification of 15 parasitic, bacterial and viral diseases that affect people of all ages and incomes.

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