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Interview

Myanmar swimmer asks IOC to disqualify junta-led Olympic committee

From Australia, Win Htet Oo says athletes are being targeted amid crackdown

Win Htet Oo says the International Olympic Committee is ignoring its own charter. (Source photos by Reuters)

TOKYO -- A promising Myanmar swimmer is calling on the International Olympic Committee to ban the Myanmar Olympic Committee from representing the country in the upcoming Tokyo Games, saying it "does not share Olympic values."

"The Myanmar Olympic Committee cannot be a part of that Olympic movement because it is essentially operating as an extension of the military's rule," Win Htet Oo told Nikkei Asia.

The 26-year-old swimmer, who currently lives in Australia, last month said in a Facebook post that by rejecting the Myanmar Olympic Committee he had foregone any chance of competing in Tokyo.

At the 2019 Southeast Asian Games, Win Htet Oo met the Olympic qualifying standard set by FINA, the sport's world governing body. That makes him eligible to compete in his first Olympics, the swimmer said.

Since he started swimming at age of 6, he has dreamed of competing against the world's best at an Olympics. Tokyo was not only going to be the realization of that dream but the end of his athletic career. "Hopefully it would be like the transition to a career where I will be helping other Myanmar athletes to go to the Olympics," Win Htet Oo said.

Win Htet Oo is asking the International Olympic Committee not to recognize the junta-linked Myanmar Olympic Committee.

In March, Win Htet Oo sent a letter to the IOC asking it not to recognize the MOC and that it allow Myanmar athletes to participate in the games under the neutral Olympic flag.

The IOC told him it would apply the principle of neutrality and not take a political side. "My argument has always been that this is not political," Win Htet Oo said. "This is about the Olympic Charter."

That charter says, "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."

Myanmar security forces are said to have killed about 800 people and arrested roughly 4,000 since the coup on Feb. 1.

Win Htet Oo is not the only Myanmar athlete to take a stand against the junta. At least up to 10 players reportedly refused to participate in Myanmar's World Cup qualifier in Japan on Friday. During the national anthem, a substitute goalkeeper gave the three-finger salute associated with the protests.

Win Htet Oo, who has dreamed of competing in the Olympics for two decades, has decided to boycott the Tokyo Games.    © Reuters

Win Htet Oo also believes that amid the military crackdown in Myanmar, "athletes are being targeted," he said. In March, 19-year-old female martial artist Ma Kyal Sin was gunned down at a protest.

"I think many athletes have been threatened to be silent," he added.

He is concerned that the junta will use the Olympics as a "powerful" showcase that it will be able to point to and say "everything is fine" in the country.

Asked if he had ever considered protesting during the games rather than boycotting them, Win Htet Oo scoffed at the idea. "You know, what if I went and did the three-finger [salute]?" he wondered aloud. "That might get more attention but at the same time, by staying silent until the Olympic Games I would allow the MOC to use me also as a propaganda tool, which I am against."

On Monday, he created an online petition and directly addressed it to the IOC and Thomas Bach, calling on the committee to demonstrate its commitment to human rights issues. "What more egregious crime is necessary to show the MOC's absolute failure to protect the cause of sport in Myanmar?" he said in a statement.

Win Htet Oo is boycotting the 2020 Games to protest the Myanmar military's coup.     © Reuters

With the IOC having a lot on its plate with the pandemic, Win Htet Oo feels the Myanmar issue has been unable to become a priority. The coup and the continued strife, he said, "are at the very bottom of their list."

His frustration is evident.

"A small country like Myanmar is not on their radar right now," he went on. "They want to make sure the Olympic Games go ahead, and all these issues of human rights ... we're gonna be ignored.

"That's why I'm trying to create as much noise as I can -- so that the IOC can't stay silent any longer."

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