By STEPHEN WILSON -- Associated Press
LONDON -- The International Olympic Committee has invited Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to send two observers to next month's Sydney Games but has rejected appeals for allowing Afghan athletes to compete.
The IOC suspended Afghanistan's national Olympic Committee in October 1999 on grounds that it could no longer function under the hardline Taliban regime in Kabul.
The Taliban-run committee does not meet IOC requirements for recognition. Among other things, the Taliban bans women from competing in sports.
The Taliban has been lobbying to overturn the suspension and clear the way for its athletes to compete in the Sydney Games, which begin Sept. 15.
A Taliban delegation met with IOC officials earlier this month in Lausanne, Switzerland, but the IOC decided to uphold its suspension.
"Athletes from Afghanistan will unfortunately not be able to participate in the games until the Taliban government has recognition of the international community," IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said Monday. "The Afghan athletes are not coming; there is no national Olympic committee."
Servan-Schreiber said the IOC was offering "technical and material" sports assistance to Afghanistan and inviting two Taliban representatives to Sydney -- at their own expense -- to observe the games. The IOC will arrange accreditation for the two officials.
"We are not accepting Afghanistan in an official capacity, we're just inviting two representatives to come to the games and see for themselves what the games are about," he said. "It's a positive step for engaging dialogue for promotion of sports worldwide. But there is absolutely no recognition or promise of recognition at this point."
IOC executive board member Jacques Rogge said the Taliban failed to meet the statutes of the Olympic Charter, especially regarding women's rights.
"The prevailing rules in Afghanistan do not allow for free participation in sport," he said. "It's understandable in a country that has been under civil war for a long time. But you cannot accept anybody or everybody; they have to correspond to the rules."
The Taliban, or the students of Islam, took over Kabul in September 1996 and control 90 per cent of the country. They are battling the opposition alliance in a bid to capture the remaining parts of Afghanistan.
The United Nations regards the ousted government of president Burhanuddin Rabbani as Afghanistan's legitimate government and does not recognize the Taliban.
Afghan officials say the country has competed at every summer Olympics since 1936.
Taliban officials say Afghan athletes have been training in wrestling, boxing, soccer and track and field.
Afghan sportsmen are forbidden from wearing shorts and are required to grow beards.