A mock “Olympics” being held as an anti-China protest by Tibetan exiles in India has failed to attract sponsors and cannot even afford to pay out the prize money on offer, organizers say.
The alternative Olympics, which has just 23 participants, comes less than three months before the real games in Beijing and will feature sports such as swimming, archery and shooting.
Catherine Schuetze, an Australian acting as clerk for the “Tibetan Olympics”, said lack of money was threatening the event, which starts Thursday in Dharamshala, home to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“We’re stripping expenses to the bone and we’re still about to run out of money,” she said. “There’s a desperate need for sponsors, donations — anything.”
The Tibetan games’ organizer, Lobsang Wangyal, warned he did not have enough cash to hand out US$8,000 in promised prize money.
“I’ve got just 40,000 rupees (US$930) and total expenses are expected to be well over 2 million rupees,” said Wangyal, who planned the event as a protest against Chinese rule in his remote Himalayan homeland.
Organizers face other problems as the exiled Tibetan administration in Dharamsala has turned its back on the event, which it views as too insulting to China and likely to damage the prospects of future talks.
The Tibetan administration favors the Dalai Lama’s goal of “meaningful autonomy” for the region within China, rather than the full independence demanded by more radical Tibetans — such as those behind the sports event.
The Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile on Wednesday also called for a suspension of protests against China as a mark of respect to victims of this month’s devastating earthquake.
The Dalai Lama has been at pains to assert he supports China as the Olympic host and has distanced himself from the protests that dogged the global torch relay.
The Dharamsala event is also causing embarrassment for its unwilling host India, which has allowed the Tibetan exiles sanctuary as long as they do not use the soil as a springboard for anti-Chinese activities.
But games director Wangyal said the Tibetan Olympics were “not being held to counter the Beijing Olympics.”
Besides Schuetze, volunteers from France, Italy, Peru, Egypt, Japan, Israel, Germany and the US have teamed up to help.
“But it’s hard work without funds,” said Susan Hayano, a US photographer who has been drafted into action to take pictures of the games.
Despite the lack of official enthusiasm for the Dharamsala event, the competitors were upbeat.
“I’ve participated in many anti-China protests and I thought this one’s going to be cool as there’ll be no police to beat us up,” said 22-year-old Tenzin Dhadon, who traveled from Nepal to take part in the javelin.
Ten women and 13 men aged between 18 and 30 have been practicing for the past week for the games and the three top winners will receive hand-crafted gold-plated medals.
However, the mountainous topography has imposed restrictions on some events. The 100m dash has been shortened to just 24m because of lack of flat land.
Chinese-controlled Tibet was rocked by unrest in March, and the Tibetan government-in-exile says 203 Tibetans were killed and 1,000 injured in China’s subsequent crackdown.
China says Tibetan “rioters” and “insurgents” killed 21 people, and has accused the Dalai Lama of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics — a charge the Tibetan spiritual leader denies.