13 June 2012

Syria's Olympic chief to be denied UK visa

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UK immigration authorities are set to deny the head of Syria's Olympic committee a UK visa in the wake of the ongoing violence in the Arab nation.

UK visa

International condemnation of Bashar al-Assad's regime has been widespread and resulted in expulsion of Syrian diplomats from the UK.

General Mowaffak Joumaa, head of the national Olympic committee (NOC) in Syria will be denied a UK visa and prevented from entering the UK to attend the opening ceremony due to his association with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of using the nation's military to commit atrocities on his own people.

The decision to exclude foreign dignitaries from the Olympics is made by a committee consisting of officials from the Home Office, the Foreign Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has no say in the matter.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt had previously said he hoped the Olympics would not be used to "preach about [British] values" and the Olympics has traditionally overlooked international issues in the past, such as then-President George W Bush attending the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics despite China's much criticised record on human rights.

However, it seems the ongoing conflict in Syria, which reportedly has claimed as many as 15,000 lives in little over a year, has convinced Whitehall to act and the decision to prevent Joumaa from entering comes in line with the recent expulsion of Syrian diplomats by UK immigration officials from the country.

The decision has been welcomed by several Syrian protest groups, Hugh Robertson of the British Solidarity for Syria (BSS) group, hailed the decision, labelling Joumaa as "an aide, supporter and apologist for a regime committing war crimes and crimes against humanity including torture, sexual violence and extra-judicial executions".

A Syria-based activist also supported the decision, claiming as head of the NOC, Joumaa is not exempt from the endemic corruption with the Syrian regime.

"Sport in Syria is as corrupt as everything else. People who are well connected and less skilled than others get preferential placement on national teams. It's been long known that sports officials, just like all officials, abuse their power and position for their gain and those around them."


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