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September 9, 2000
Samaranch dismayed at ban on officialsJohn Mehaffey
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch has expressed serious concern to Australian Prime Minister John Howard at an entry ban on two members of the Olympic family, IOC officials said on Saturday.
Senior boxing official Gafur Rakhimov from Uzbekistan and International Basketball Federation (FIBA) vice-president Carl Ching of Hong Kong were denied entry to Australia for the Sydney Olympics beginning next Friday.
Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said on Friday the bans had been imposed for security reasons. "We are dealing with serious issues of character," he said without elaborating.
In a letter to Howard dated September 8, Samaranch said the election of Sydney as host city for the Games had been conditional upon a commitment from Australia's federal government to respect the rights of accredited members of the Olympic family to enter the country.
"This is a matter of the most serious concern for the Olympic movement," Samaranch wrote.
"The IOC hereby respectfully requests to be informed by the federal government of Australia of the exact reasons for which entry has been denied so far to both above mentioned persons contrary to the commitment referred to above."
At a news conference on Saturday at the conclusion of the IOC's three-day Executive Board meeting, director-general Francois Carrard said no reply had yet been received to the letter. "We are sure we will hear before the beginning of the Games," he said.
In 1994 Ching was barred from entering Canada for the World Basketball Championships under immigration rules dealing with security threats and criminals. British author Andrew Jennings, in his book "The Great Olympic Scandal", made a number of allegations about Rakhimov, suggesting possible links to organised crime in the former Soviet Union.
"I think we have expressed clearly that as a principle it is a matter of importance," Carrard said. "We have also said that governments are sovereign and have final control over who they can authorise to enter a country."
Carrard said he regarded the issue as a political matter.
"The commitments made by any governments to grant access regardless of who they are to enable them to carry out their functions at the Olympic Games is of a political nature. It's a political commitment," he said.
Carrard said he had not heard from either Rakhimov or Ching. Asked specifically about Rakhimov, he replied: "I have never met him."
Although the IOC has yet to receive a reply from Howard, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has defended the ban, saying it related to the "safety and security of the Australian community".
"We are dealing here with serious issues of character. We are not making capricious decisions," Ruddock said.
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