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French official backpedals on Olympic badge ban
AP[Wednesday, April 16, 2008 20:06]
By Jenny Barchfield

PARIS, April 16 — France's Olympic chief backed away from comments that he would not allow French athletes to wear a badge aimed at expressing their desire "For a Better World" at the Beijing Games.

Henri Serandour had said he was against athletes wearing such a badge bearing France's name. But he later clarified that he would support an international badge that could be worn by athletes from around the world.

French athletes came up with the idea of a badge after China's crackdown on protests in March in Tibet. Some initially suggested Olympic athletes wear a green ribbon or other signs to show support for human rights.

That evolved into a proposed badge that French athletes unveiled earlier this month — emblazoned with the Olympic rings, the word "France," and the slogan "For a Better World" — lifted from the Olympic charter. Athletes said the badge was an expression of their attachment to human rights and Olympic values, values they accused China of not respecting.

On Monday, Serandour appeared to rule out such a badge, saying the Olympic charter must be respected. The charter forbids any kind of "demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda" at Olympic sites.

His comments were criticized, and at a news conference Tuesday, Serandour backtracked somewhat, saying: "If there is a badge, it should be a badge for everyone," not a specifically French one.

Former Olympic champion David Douillet, a two-time gold medalist in judo and influential member of the French Olympic Committee, said French athletes still hope an international badge will be allowed at the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Games.

"What we want to wear is a badge that would be worn by an American, by an Ethiopian, by a Lebanese, by any nationality," he said.

He said an approved international badge — which might still feature the Olympic rings and a quote from the charter, but not name France — could allow athletes to express themselves without running the risk of being ejected from the Games.

German athletes, meanwhile, have started a drive to wear wristbands with the inscription "Sports for Human Rights." They are waiting for clarification from sports authorities if and when they will be permitted to wear them.

Some Germans have talked about shaving their heads in the style of Tibetan monks. Olympic judo champion Yvonne Boenisch has said she plans to boycott the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Team Darfur, a coalition that represents almost 300 athletes and is dedicated to ending the violence in that region of Sudan, said it has sent a letter to IOC president Jacques Rogge asking for clarification on what it can and cannot do in Beijing.
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