Syrian general and 'friend' of Assad set for Olympics invitation
Rob Hastings is Deputy News Editor at The Independent. He has served on the news desk since 2010, and also writes travel articles, music reviews and features. In 2015 he shortlisted for the Washington Post’s Laurence Stern Fellowship for a series on reportage features from Iran.
Wednesday 14 March 2012
A Syrian general said to be a friend of President Bashar al-Assad is set to be invited to the London Olympic Games despite the ruling regime's slaughter of anti-government protesters.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was monitoring the situation regarding General Mowaffak Joumaa, a former long-distance runner who now heads the country's Olympic Committee, but that as things stand he will receive a formal invitation to the 2012 Games.
Pere Miro, an IOC director, said that the organisation was doing its best to ensure that Syria would be represented at the Games in a proper fashion, having diverted funds away from the authorities – castigated around the world for their brutal crackdown on demonstrations – and into the hands of the athletes themselves.
However, he said that while the IOC had not visited the country for six months, the National Olympic Committee of Syria was still officially recognised by the IOC and that invitations issued to its officials last July therefore still stand.
The situation could turn into a repeat of the controversy surrounding the invitation list for last summer's royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, when the Syrian ambassador, Dr Sami Khiyami, was among a number of representatives of countries accused of butchering their own people. His invitation was later withdrawn.
"We continue dealing with the athletes and we will try to make sure that Syrian athletes will be in London," Mr Miro said. "We have been dealing in the past with the Syrian NOC to ensure that the money goes to the athletes. Now we are using more direct ways." He said that there were four or five Syrian athletes whom he expects to qualify for the Games, mainly in athletics and swimming events, and that they currently remain in Syria.
He then added that he expected "another four or five officials" to be in attendance, meaning they could yet watch their athletes parade into the stadium in Stratford beneath the flag of the Assad regime. "At the moment we treat the Syrian NOC as all the others but, sure, we keep our eye on the situation," he said.
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