IOC announces aid for athletes in Afghanistan

Following the return to power of the Taliban in mid-August, 300 Afghan athletes, coaches and officials were evacuated on humanitarian visas obtained by National Olympic Committees from their governments.

On Tuesday, president Thomas Bach said the IOC had begun discussions with the Taliban on November 18 in Qatar about those who remained behind, especially women and girls.   -  REUTERS

The International Olympic Committee, after orchestrating the evacuation of about 300 members of the Afghan sports community, on Wednesday announced $560,000 of aid for the winter to those left behind.

"Thanks to our discreet diplomacy, the Taliban accept and support the delivery by the IOC of humanitarian aid to members of the Olympic community who still live in Afghanistan," said Thomas Bach, the IOC president.

He was speaking after the second day of an Executive Board meeting at which the IOC earmarked $560,000 (493,000 euros) in aid for about 2,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes to be distributed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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Following the return to power of the Taliban in mid-August, 300 Afghan athletes, coaches and officials were evacuated on humanitarian visas obtained by National Olympic Committees from their governments.

"This is a work in progress," Bach said. "It has become more difficult to get a humanitarian visa for people from Afghanistan than at the very beginning of this evacuation, nevertheless we are in talks with a number of governments and we hope that one or the other will come to fruition.

"Because this has slowed down we have reinforced the humanitarian community to overcome the very harsh winter in Afghanistan."

On Tuesday, Bach said the IOC had begun discussions with the Taliban on November 18 in Qatar about those who remained behind, especially women and girls.

"We have clearly explained to them that free access to sport, without any gender, ethnic, religious or other discrimination, is fundamental for the respect of the Olympic Charter," he said.

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The Afghan aid offers the IOC an opportunity to defend its "quiet diplomacy", a term recently coined to justify its controversial intervention in the case of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who was not seen for nearly three weeks after accusing a former top Communist Party politician of sexual assault.

Bach spoke to Peng for 30 minutes on November 21 in one of the first contacts that a Western organisation had with her. A second video call followed in early December, which allayed concerns about her physical well-being but not her degree of freedom.

Accused of serving Beijing's propaganda, the IOC has defended its "humane" approach, deeming it "more effective" to act behind the scenes to ensure the "well-being and safety" of the player, without mentioning the accusations she made

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