LONDON, United Kingdom – Britain is facing calls to ban the president of Syria’s Olympic committee from entering the country to attend this summer’s London 2012 Games.
Lawmakers and Syrian competitors say General Mowaffak Joumaa should not be allowed into Britain because he is a friend of dictator President Bashir Assad, whose regime has been accused by the United Nations of torturing and killing civilians.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said last month that Syrian athletes would compete in London in July, despite the violence raging in their country.
However, the presence of senior Syrian officials is set to be controversial.
In his first television interview on the subject, General Joumaa, President of the Syrian Olympic committee, told ITV News there was “no question” he would be attending.
Sir Menzies Campbell, a senior British lawmaker and former Olympic athlete, said: “It would be totally against the spirit of the Olympic games if that man was allowed into Britain to attend the Games.”
Abdelbasset Saroot, the former Syrian soccer team’s goalkeeper, said his country’s athletes do not want to compete in the Games because “they don’t want to play for a flag that they have no pride or faith in”.
The 20-year-old said: “I personally know the majority of the athletes don’t want to take part and they are only going (out of) fear (for) their families – the regime repercussions if they don’t comply.”
Saroot, whose country failed to qualify for this summer’s Olympic soccer tournament after a 2-1 defeat by Uzbekistan last month, is a supporter of the anti-government protests in Syria.
“My message as a footballer, athlete and activist first of all is that we are seeing a real massacre here and the world isn’t speaking except of numbers and death tolls.
“These are real people, this is a massacre because people are being butchered, people in the world have forgotten about the humanitarian crisis – houses are being demolished.”
Protests against President Assad’s rule have prompted a crackdown that the United Nations says has killed more than 9,000 civilians. Syria says 3,000 members of the security forces have been killed by armed rebels.
Assad has agreed to a cease-fire negotiated by international peace envoy Kofi Annan from April 10, the latest effort to end the bloodshed.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that Syrian athletes will be allowed into the UK to take part. The country’s home office told ITV News it would “consider carefully” entry applications from Syria’s delegation of officials.
It was not immediately clear if General Joumaa was among those covered by European sanctions that already ban foreign travel.