By David Bond, Chief Sports ReporterWith the start of the Beijing Olympics now just 145 days away, clashes between protesters and Chinese security forces in Tibet have sparked serious concerns among senior officials at the International Olympic Committee.
▪ China unleashes guns and tear gas as Tibet protests turn violent
Following film director Steven Spielberg's decision last month to pull out as an adviser to the Beijing Games opening ceremony over China's support for Sudan, the IOC were already bracing themselves for a wave of protests in the run up to the start of this summer's Olympics.
But yesterday's crackdown in Lhasa has left many in the Olympic movement fearing that the Beijing Games could now be hit by a series of international boycotts, reviving memories of America's withdrawal from the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Although European leaders yesterday dismissed talk of a boycott, one leading IOC member told the Daily Telegraph: "Clearly we are very worried about the situation. Our role is ultimately to organise a good Games but we have always been clear; when things start to affect the Games then we will react."
An IOC spokeswoman added, however, that it was difficult for them to intervene. "We cannot interfere with sovereign matters," she said. "What we said when we awarded the Games to China was that we hoped the presence of the Games would be a catalyst for China to improve on human rights.
"It is not in the IOC's remit to try and sort out problems that have been beyond governments."
The protests in Tibet come at a sensitive time for Beijing's organisers as they prepare for the Olympic torch to arrive in Beijing on March 31 before it starts its long journey around the world and eventually back to China in time for the Games in August.
The flame is due to be carried through Tibet and to the peak of Mount Everest but organisers have deliberately not disclosed when the torch will be there amid fears the relay will be targeted by human rights campaigners.
The Tibet protests are also certain to be raised by the IOC when officials from the organisation visit Beijing for their last, crucial inspection visit of the city before the Games on April 19.