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Thu 13 Mar 2008 03:11 AM

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Dutch swimmer pressures IOC over human rights

Olympic gold medallist calls on president to speak out ahead of Beijing games.

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Pieter van den Hoogenband on Wednesday called on International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge to speak out on human rights in China ahead of the Beijing Games.

"I'm calling on him (Rogge) to take responsibility as the highest leader in international sport and to speak out publically before the whole world, in the name of athletes all over the world, in favour of the improvement of the human rights situation in China," the Dutch swimmer told a press conference.

"As the head of the Olympic family Mr Rogge is the right person to give a voice to athletes worldwide."

Van den Hoogenband's coach Jacco Verhaeren last month expressed his concern at the IOC's reluctance to criticise China's record on human rights.

"What bothers me is the IOC's indifferent attitude. Really I don't understand the problem. What is so difficult about condemning executions," Verhaeren told the Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. Rogge has defended the IOC's stance.

"We are not a political body. The International Olympic Committee is a sports organization, and it is a private organization not a state one," he said recently.

"Don't blame the IOC for not achieving more than a generation of Statesmen have. We believe the Olympic Games are a force for the good, and we believe the Olympic Games will be a catalyst for change in China."

Van den Hoogenband, the world 100m recordholder, is bidding to win a third consecutive gold in the 100m freestyle in Beijing, and is also competing in the 200m, in which he won gold at the Sydney Games and silver in Athens.

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