By ROB GLOSTER -- Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia -- Less than a week after inviting two Afghan observers to the Sydney Games, the International Olympic Committee has withdrawn the offer and told the officials to stay home.
IOC spokesman Franklin Servan-Schreiber said the committee reversed its position after Afghan leaders misrepresented what Olympic leaders had offered. He said the IOC never told the Afghans it was recognizing a new national Olympic committee under the hardline Taliban government.
"They have turned this into a political issue by making a statement that this is recognition, there is no longer a problem with the IOC," Servan-Schreiber said. "Those arguments are completely wrong and totally outside what was agreed orally in the meeting. They are no longer invited."
IOC vice president Kevan Gosper said in an interview Friday with Australia's SBS radio network that he convinced IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch to withdraw the offer to Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
Gosper, who in an SBS interview on Thursday defended the invitation as a step toward "the development of sport and athletics in that country," said he started having second thoughts after the interview.
He said he called Samaranch to ask him to rescind the invitation, then called the network Friday and asked for a chance to discuss the change.
The reversal followed claims by Taliban leaders that the invitation amounted to IOC recognition of their regime.
"It was unfortunate that these individuals having been invited, or someone on their behalf, suggested it was recognition by the IOC of their regime or their organization," Gosper told SBS on Friday. "And that is quite untrue."
Earlier this week, the IOC invited the Taliban to send two observers to the Sydney Games at their own expense, but rejected appeals by Afghanistan that its athletes be allowed to compete.
"It was made very clear to them," Servan-Schreiber said in a telephone interview from IOC headquarters in Switzerland. "There was no talk of recognition at all. It was a discussion about how to help promote sport in Afghanistan. We thought one of the best ways to do that was to have meetings in Sydney."
The IOC suspended Afghanistan's national Olympic committee last October, saying it no longer could function under the Taliban regime in Kabul.
The Taliban-run committee does not meet IOC requirements for recognition. Among other things, the Taliban bar women from competing in sports. Afghan sportsmen are prohibited from wearing shorts and are required to grow beards.
The Taliban have been lobbying to overturn the suspension and clear the way for Afghan athletes to compete in the Sydney Games.
The Taliban took over Kabul in September 1996 and now control 90 percent of the country. They are battling an 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 have said the country has competed at every Summer Olympics since 1936, and that their athletes have been preparing for the Sydney Games in wrestling, boxing, soccer and track and field.