Olympic Games; Boulmerka berates Mexico

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THE OUTSPOKEN Olympic gold medalist Hassiba Boulmerka caused a diplomatic rift yesterday when she accused Mexico of discriminating against women athletes. Boulmerka, the Algerian who won the women's 1500 metres title at the 1992 Barcelona Games, grouped Mexico along with Pakistan and other Islamic countries where "women really suffer".

Addressing a meeting of the International Olympic Committee's 2000 reform commission in Lausanne, Boulmerka - who said she received death threats from Islamic militants in her country after winning a gold medal - called on the IOC to fight against "terrorism towards women".

The Mexican media magnate and IOC member Mario Vazquez Rana took the floor to deny that Mexico discriminates against female athletes. He asked Boulmerka to withdraw her comments, but Boulmerka refused. "I reject Mr Vazquez Rana's statement and will not change my view," she said.

A senior Chinese Olympic official yesterday accused a powerful American senator of interfering in IOC affairs to advance his presidential ambitions. He Zhenliang rebuked the Arizona Republican John McCain, an outspoken critic of the IOC who chaired Senate hearings into the Salt Lake City bribery scandal in April.

"He knows nothing about Olympic Games," the Chinese IOC member said. "He used this for his own political purpose. It's political interference. Let the IOC deal with our own."

"If they interfere with sports for their own purpose, for their election campaigns," He Zhenliang added, "it will damage very seriously the image of American sports."

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, is pursuing the Republican presidential nomination. He has been harshly critical of the IOC for its role in the vote-buying scheme stemming from Salt Lake's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Congressional leaders have threatened to enact legislation that would cripple the IOC financially unless the organisation enacts significant reforms.

It also became clear yesterday that the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, is making plans for the election of a successor. Samaranch proposed that the IOC changes its charter to require presidential hopefuls to announce their candidacy several months before the vote. Under current rules, nominations are announced the night before the election.

Samaranch also said candidates should be allowed to present their platforms before the general assembly. Earlier this week, Samaranch, who has been in office since 1980, dismissed speculation that he may retire early and said he intends to serve out the remainder of his mandate until September 2001.