IOC helping Olympic hopeful Syrian athletes despite country's chaos
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- The IOC is working with a handful of Syrian athletes to help them qualify for the Olympics, hoping they will make it to the London Games despite the spiral of violence shaking the country.
Pere Miro, the IOC's director of relations with national Olympic committees, said Tuesday the international body is providing funding to the athletes and believes four or five could qualify from track and field and swimming.
"We want to try to make sure that the Syrian athletes will be in London," he said. "We have a few under our control. We will continue supporting them. We will do our best."
Miro said, according to his latest information, the athletes are training inside Syria, not abroad. In addition to individual athletes, Syria's soccer team still has an outside chance of qualifying for the Olympics.
The U.N. estimates that more than 7,500 people have been killed in the past 12 months since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began.
Because of the conflict, Miro said, the IOC is sending its funding directly to the athletes rather than through the Syrian Olympic Committee.
The Syrian body, which is based in Damascus and headed by Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa, remains fully recognized by the IOC. Syria also has an IOC member, Samih Moudallal.
"For us, the NOC is a normal NOC," Miro said. "It's not suspended. There are no sanctions against the NOC. We continue having normal relations."
As things stand, if the Syrian athletes qualify, they will be under the control of the national Olympic committee in London. Officials from the national committee would also be invited to the games.
"That is the situation today," Miro said. "I don't know what it will be in May."
In the event of a breakup of Syria or other events affecting the national body, the IOC would try to bring the athletes to London and allow them to compete under the Olympic flag. Such an arrangement was implemented in the past for athletes form East Timor and the former Yugoslavia.
"One of the policies of the IOC is to do everything to get the athletes in the games," Miro said. "We operate normally through the NOC, but if not, the IOC will take measures."
Miro said Syria's Olympic committee is "autonomous" and "independent," although some officials may also hold high state-level positions. While the IOC has suspended some national bodies for government interference, that is not the case with Syria.
"For us, the NOC is a really good NOC that is performing a good job within Syria," Miro said.
On other issues, Miro said the Libyan national Olympic committee has been successfully rebuilt since the revolution that toppled Moammar Gadhafi last year. The Olympic programs in Tunisia and Egypt are also progressing well, he said, while less information is known about the situation in Yemen.
The Kuwaiti national Olympic committee has been suspended - and remains so - since 2010 because of political interference by the government. Miro said the IOC will strive to get Kuwaiti athletes to compete in London, possibly under the Olympic flag as was the case at the 2010 Youth Games in Singapore.
The status of Kosovo and South Sudan, meanwhile, remain under review.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008, but has yet to gain full U.N. recognition. The IOC appears unlikely to recognize Kosovo as an independent Olympic team without the U.N. acting first.
South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July 2011 and has been recognized by the U.N. But South Sudan has not met the Olympic requirement of having five national sports federations recognized by international bodies.
"At the moment, they have zero," Miro said. "It will be very difficult to get five before London."
The issues will be discussed at the IOC board meeting in Quebec City from May 23-25.