Olympic Preparation


'Work in progress' on :
Six days before the Beijing Olympics, Chinese and international organisers were working together on a compromise to unblock more censored websites for foreign media, a senior IOC official said Saturday.
It came the same day the International Organising Committee announced here it had stripped the United States' 4x400-metre men's relay team of the gold medal it won at the Sydney 2000 Olympics for doping.
China has faced severe criticism after foreign reporters covering the August 8-24 Games discovered a range of websites were barred at the high-tech Olympic media centre.
Beijing has since unblocked a number of those sites including that of Amnesty International, but many others remain inaccessible, bringing more unwanted bad publicity for Games organisers and the Chinese government.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge last month had promised unfettered Internet for foreign journalists covering the showpiece event.
IOC executive board member Kevan Gosper said Saturday Rogge had not changed his position on the need for free Internet access, and contrary to reports had not struck a deal with Chinese organisers to block some sites.
"We were able to clarify at a most senior level... there was absolutely no shift that had occurred," Gosper told reporters Saturday.
He said the IOC and BOCOG, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, have set up a working group to examine which remaining censored websites can be opened up to reporters.
He described the process as a "work in progress", but the Australian said he was hopeful access would improve.
"We believe we are moving to a point where you will be in a position to report in an unfettered way," Gosper said, adding there will always be a debate over whether a country's own regulations meet international expectations.
On Friday, the previously barred websites of Amnesty, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle were accessible.
But many other sites were still blocked, including those linked to Chinese dissidents, the outlawed Falungong spiritual movement, the Tibetan government-in-exile and sites with information on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.
IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said Beijing organisers, when referring to Internet restrictions in previous meetings, had spoken only of pornographic sites and those sensitive for national security reasons.
Meanwhile, a dress rehearsal for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony was held on Saturday despite security breaches that led to footage of an earlier practice leaking out.
The ceremony directed by Chinese film director Zhang Yimou had been shrouded in secrecy and the first rehearsal took place on July 11 with tight security deployed around the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium.
However, a film crew from South Korea's private station SBS sneaked in and filmed the rehearsal and then broadcast parts of it on Tuesday before posting it on the Internet.
Everyone working in the stadium had signed agreements with the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee, or BOCOG, to keep what they saw confidential, the Xinhua state news agency reported.
The International Olympic Committee accused the South Korean station of stealing the footage and Beijing organisers said they were investigating.
Fireworks light up the sky above the stadium again on Saturday and an audience was allowed inside the stadium to watch the rehearsal, according to the Beijing organisers' official website.
A third and final rehearsal is scheduled for Tuesday.

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