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London Olympics 2012
London Olympics 2012

Syrian athletes may compete under neutral, five-ring Olympics flag in London 2012

(DP-News - Telegraph)
LONDON- Syrian Olympians might have to compete under the Olympics banner following international condemnation of the Houla massacre as an International Olympic Committee spokesman told Telegraph Sport: "We will do everything we can to ensure athletes are not affected by these events [in Syria] and can compete".

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has provided funding for a handful of Syrian athletes to train outside of their country to help them qualify for track and field and swimming events at the London Games.

This news comes as the British government joined others around the world in expelling Syrian ambassadors and diplomats in the wake of the horrific Friday massacre in Houla that the United Nations says involved scores of families and children.

Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday said the expulsion of the Syrian diplomat in London, charge d'affaires Ghassan Dalla, and two other envoys – who have seven days to leave the country – would send a "stark message" that time was running out for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
 
It has also firmed the Government's stance against Assad's close friend, the military general and former track athlete Mowaffak Joumaa, who heads the Syrian National Olympic Committee, and its secretary general Nasser al-Sayyed.

The Foreign Office had been assessing the credentials of both officials, and while not making any public determination, it was clear that government officials were likely to refuse entry to both officials.

The Syrian International Olympic Committee member Samih Moudallal told Telegraph Sport from Damascus last week that President al-Assad had never intended to travel to London, even before his EU travel ban and that he had not been formally invited.

The other international president who has not been invited is Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe.

London Olympic Games organizers said they have only invited heads of state who are able to legally travel to the UK, and that precludes any of the 128 persons currently on the EU travel ban list. But anyone able to travel, like Argentinean president Cristina Fernandez, has been formally invited.

"We are in a tough position because if they are allowed into the country it is difficult not to invite them to the Olympic Games," an Olympic insider said.

Moudallal said in an interview before the latest atrocity that London had invited Syrian officials, including General Joumaa to attend the Games because they were independent.

"No government officials from Syria have been invited to attend the Olympic Games," Moudallal said.

"The president has not been invited, only the Olympic officials have been invited because they are independent and they have been invited to participate in all activities" he added.

Currently the six to eight Syrian athletes who may qualify for the London Olympics have received support funding direct from IOC headquarters in Lausanne, rather than have the money filtered through the Syrian Olympic Committee.

Weightlifter Soraya Sobh, boxer Wassim Salameh, equestrian Ahmed Saber Hamsho and high jumper Majd Eddin Ghazal have qualified for the Games. Three female athletes are expected to be named on the team, including shooter Raya Zeineddine.

The IOC has yet to suspend the Syrian Olympic Committee, which is may do if it feels there is political pressure on the organisation. If that occurs the Syrian athletes will march and compete under the Olympic flag.

The only other athletes who will compete under the neutral flag are Kuwaiti athletes because their national Olympic committee has been suspended because of political interference.

Meanwhile Joumaa said on Wednesday that nine athletes have qualified for the Games and vowed they will compete "despite all pressures, media war and threats to ban them".

Syria will take part in the Games to reflect the "will of its people and show its firm support for the leadership of the country and its army that is vehemently confronting the conspiracy" against it, according to the president of the Syrian National Olympic Committee.
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