Bhutia pulls out of torch relay
India's football captain sympathises with the Tibetans and their cause.
Last Modified: 01 Apr 2008 15:25 GMT

Bhaichung Bhutia, right, wants to show his solidarity with the people of Tibet and their struggle [AFP]

Bhaichung Bhutia, India's football captain, has refused to carry the Olympic torch when it arrives in New Delhi later this month in protest against China's crackdown in Tibet.
Bhutia, a Buddhist from northeastern Sikkim state, situated between India, China and Nepal, wrote to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) saying he wanted to "show my solidarity" with Tibetans.
"I sympathise with the Tibetans and their cause. I have sent a letter to the IOA refusing to carry the torch," the 31-year-old Bhutia said in a statement.

"I have many friends in Sikkim who follow Buddhism. This is my way of standing by the people of Tibet and their struggle," he later told reporters in Kolkata.

"I feel what's happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show my solidarity."

"I feel what's happening in Tibet is not right and in my small way I should show my solidarity."

Bhaichung Bhutia
Indian Olympic officials said they had not received any communication from Bhutia.

"I have learned from someone that Bhutia has turned down our invitation," Randhir Singh, IOA secretary general, said.

"Since we have not received any letter from him, I would not like to comment on it."

Milkha Singh, G.S. Randhawa and P.T. Usha, three other Indian athletes invited to join the relay, said they would participate.

"I feel sports and politics should not be mixed. And I'll surely take part in the relay," Singh, one of India's leading golfers, told the Press Trust of India.

No further influence

Randhawa, a hurdler, said participating was a "matter of great pride and honour for me and I'll be there in the relay."

The India-based Tibetan-government-in-exile hailed Bhutia's decision but said it would not try to influence other athletes.

"We appreciate Bhutia's gesture and welcome it," Thubten Samphel, spokesman of the Tibetan government-in-exile, said by telephone from Dharamshala town in northern India where his administration is based.

"But we are not making any appeal to the others as it will be a decision they need to make," Samphel told AFP.

"The Dalai Lama supports the right of China to hold the Games, and that's our stand, too."

The Olympic torch is due to arrive in India on April 17 and Indian security sources told AFP that the route had been altered as a precaution against possible disruption by Tibetan exiles.

"Originally it was set to start in (the western Indian city of) Mumbai, but now the relay will be a limited event and held in the Indian capital," a top home ministry official said.

Bhutia, who was awarded India's third highest civilian honour for promoting football in a country where cricket is the ruling passion, has scored more than 35 goals at the international level.

India, home to more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees, has witnessed a string of demonstrations since protests first broke out over the border in Lhasa on March 10, the 49th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

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