NEWS FEATURE: IOC seeks stronger UN links with observer role

IOC seeks stronger UN links with observer roleHamburg  - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants to strengthen its partnership with the United Nations by gaining observer status at the UN General Assembly.

The UN confirmed an application had been received from the IOC, and told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that a decision could be expected by the beginning of September.

An IOC spokeswoman told dpa Friday: "The IOC has been campaigning for more than a century for the values of peace, dialogue, solidarity and humanity. An observer seat in the UN General Assembly would allow the IOC to build synergies and strengthen its partnership with the UN."

In addition to the current 192 member states, there are currently 71 organizations with observer status including the European Union, the Red Cross, the Palestine Liberation Organization and Interpol, but also banking and trade organizations.

Observers have the right to speak at UN General Assembly meetings, but are not allowed to vote on resolutions.

If the IOC move is approved by the General Assembly as expected in September, it would seen as a boost for IOC president Jacques Rogge shortly before he stands for a second term in office.

Rogge, who was first elected in 2001 for an eight-year term, will be running for a second four-year term during the election to be held at the Olympic Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark in October.

An observer-status role at the UN would allow the IOC greater scope to promote its interests and spread the appeal of the Olympic values among the community of nations.

Yet the IOC would also be facing a balancing act if it were to be dragged into political discussions at the risk of its autonomy.

Willi Lemke, the German UN special envoy for sport, said: "I will do everything I can to support the IOC's efforts. I can well understand the IOC's position because the fact of being closer to the UN makes a lot of things easier." However he said he could also see possible "areas of conflict" should the IOC become too involved in the political domain.

Rogge has said in the past that the IOC cannot solve all the problems of the world but can help make the world a better place. At the same time he has called for athletes to remain politically neutral.

Yet the 66-year-old Belgian has not always cut a happy figure in his efforts to present the IOC as a credible but unpolitical entity in geopolitical matters.

He came under criticism for a perceived low-key response on Tibet and human rights issues ahead of the Beijing Games last summer, but could claim his "silent diplomacy" approach to be justified.

Likewise the latest move for greater partnership with the UN could be seen as countering the critics of some within the IOC that he lacks political awareness.

For Rogge, the IOC application for observer status seems to be the logical result of years of cooperation with the United Nations.

As well as the joint "Olympic truce" project, the IOC has been involved with a number of UN organizations such as the children's work UNICEF, the environment programme UNEP and educational, scientific and cultural organization UNESCO as well as the fight against doping in sport.

Senior Olympic officials have been calling for more than a year for a clearer definition of the IOC's role, an issue which is bound to be on the agenda at its Congress in Copenhagen and one which could now be shaped by what is decided by the General Assembly. (dpa)