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Vancouver won't crack down on minor t-shirt dissent in venues

By Greg Heakes, AFP
September 19, 2009

VANCOUVER, Canada The Falun Gong and civil rights groups will be allowed displays of minor dissent inside Olympic venues as long as they don't interfere with the competitions, the Vancouver organizing committee said on Friday.

Vancouver is setting up designated protest areas outside the Olympic events but those that have tickets and want to get their message across with a t-shirt slogan won't be turned away from the venues, said David Cobb, executive vice-president of the Vancouver 2010 organizing group.

"Every situation is different," said Cobb on Friday. "If somebody has a slogan on a t-shirt it is unlikely to get our attention. If someone is holding up a sign obstructing other people's view then that might be something we would look at.

"Somebody wearing a t-shirt that gives a political opinion is not something we would be worried about."

The Falun Gong is one of the most visible protest groups in and around Vancouver. They and others have targetted the Chinese government for human rights abuses and its record on Tibet.

Vancouver has a large Chinese population and China is concerned that the Falun Gong could try to use the Games to embarrass the Beijing government during the February 12-28 Winter Olympics.

Beijing and the Falun Gong have been locked in battles in the Canadian courts over a manned protest hut the Falun Gong built in front of the Chinese consulate near downtown Vancouver. Earlier this year the Canadian courts ordered the Falun Gong to tear down the hut which had been on the site since 2001.

Vancouver organizers are planning to set up protest zones around the Olympic venues where demonstrators can gather and protest as long as they stay within the "safe area".

"Our obligation is to make sure nothing happens in the stadium that could interfere with the athlete's ability to win the gold medal," Cobb said.

Organizers are also establishing zones around the sporting arenas to prevent marketing campaigns that could violate Olympic sponsorship contracts.

Vancouver has drawn international praise for the way it has completed the construction of most of the venues ahead of time.

But it has not been easy for the organizing committee which has been criticized over ticket sales and cost overruns leaving them with a possible budget shortfall of 30 million Canadian dollars.

With their rainy day fund threatening to dry up, Vancouver was forced to cut costs by dropping some services and consolidating others.

John Furlong, chief executive of the organizing committee, said there is still some work to do on the financial side.

The International Olympic Committee has taken the unusual step of promising to help combat Vancouver's deficit by seeking to sign more international level sponsors and then passing on some of the revenues to Vancouver.

"We are confident that with the IOC coming in that we are going to meet our objective and deliver the Games within budget," Furlong said Friday. "Our talks with the IOC will take a whole bunch of turns between now and the Games.

"They (IOC) could do an agreement or two that would fill a big gap of that (30 million dollars). This is off the list of things we worry about."

Furlong expects about 50,000 people to show up in Victoria for the arrival of the Olympic torch on October 30. The arrival begins the start of the flame's 45,000 kilometre journey across Canada.

"Once the flame arrives the project really gets underway and that 106-day journey will start," Furlong said.

"I go to Denmark in two weeks to give our last report. I look forward to giving the IOC the assurances that the Games we committed to are the Games people will see."

Furlong defended the organizing committee against accusations that they aren't doing enough to advertise the Games locally by sprucing up the city with Olympic banners and flags.

"It is all about timing," he said. "All of that will start to happen at the 11th and a half hour because people want it to be fresh."

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