Syria Olympic chief may be blocked from London 2012 Games

 

Syria's Olympic chief could face being refused entry to Britain for the London 2012 Games.

General Mowaffak Joumaa, president of the Syrian Olympic committee, has been invited by the IOC to attend the London Games but he will have any application scrutinised by ministers who have the power to block him attending.

Joumaa is not on the EU banned list, unlike his country's leader Bashar Assad who was given a European travel ban following the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, but he is a close aide of the Syrian dictator.

Olympics minister Hugh Robertson confirmed that the Government has the power to block Joumaa coming to London.

Robertson told the Press Association: "The Syrian regime is now on the EU list but there is then a second level down, where anyone who applies for a visa for the Games who comes from a country where there might be questions raised goes in front of a committee where those cases are individually looked at.

"Any that are contentious come to ministers to sign off and we have the power to refuse anybody a visa."

The ultimate decision will be taken by the Home Office and the Foreign Office.

Asked if the Government could block Joumaa attending the Games, Robertson added: "We would have to talk to the IOC but yes of course we can.

"I think that might be a situation that is developing as we speak. We will have to see when his application comes through."

Meanwhile, Robertson said he had no power to intervene on Saudi Arabia's apparent refusal to allow any women athletes to compete under their flag in London but that he hoped the situation could be resolved.

Robertson added: "That's an issue for the IOC. There have been slightly conflicting signals coming out of Riyadh and there was a less promising statement a couple of weeks ago. The IOC are working on the issue and are going to try to find a way so that some Saudi women are able to compete.

"You are always balancing the conservative elements in Saudi Arabia against those who want to reach out.

"But of course I would very much like to see Saudi women competing in London."

PA

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