Cameron: Assad regime not welcome at Olympics

DAVID STRINGER Associated Press Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Dozens of officials in Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime will be blocked from attending the London Olympics, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed Wednesday as he pledged to make the event "the greatest show on Earth."

Cameron said those subject to international travel bans and asset freezes would not be able to attend the sporting spectacle, which takes place from July 27 to Aug. 12.

"I don't think we should punish the athletes for the sins of the regime, so Syria will be taking part in the games and that is right," Cameron told reporters as he held talks with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who was in town for the IOC's final inspection visit before the games.

"But let's be absolutely clear, Britain has led efforts within the European Union and elsewhere to institute asset bans, travel freezes and punishing sanctions against this despicable regime. Anyone covered by one of those travel bans will not be welcome in London," Cameron said.

A total of 41 organizations and 127 people linked to the Syrian regime have had European Union sanctions imposed upon them, including Assad's British-born wife, Asma. Diplomats have conceded they could not prevent her from entering Britain, but insist they do not expect her to try to travel to the U.K.

Britain's Home Office, which is responsible for border control, will need to decide whether to grant a visa to attend the Olympics to Syrian Olympic Committee president Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa, a close Assad aide who is not currently covered by sanctions.

The ministry can deny entry if it feels an individual's presence in Britain would not be "conducive to the public good."

Cameron said he, Rogge and London organizing committee chairman Sebastian Coe used their talks to discuss transport, security planning and attempts to make sure ordinary people benefit from the legacy of the London Olympics.

The British leader -- who said he runs and plays tennis once a week -- insisted a key goal was to raise public participation in sports, particularly among young people. Cameron later played a game of badminton in the garden of his Downing Street home with Coe and two schoolgirls.

A key benefit from the Olympics would be "the inspiration people will feel when they see great British athletes, whether rowing in a race, riding on a bicycle or running on the track," Cameron said. "It's well known that this has a transformational effect."

"That's the bit you can't touch, but it is very, very powerful and I think can bring the country together," he said.

Rogge also met with former British Olympic stars Denise Lewis, Darren Campbell and Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, who competed in equestrian events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

"London has raised the bar on how to deliver a lasting legacy. We can already see tangible results in the remarkable regeneration of east London," Rogge said.

The IOC delegation is meeting with London organizers through Friday to check on preparations, the 10th and final visit by the full coordination group since the British capital was awarded the games in July 2005.

"We are happy at the IOC," Rogge told reporters, when asked about London's readiness to host the events.

Coe told Cameron he was so happy with preparations so far that he "was delirious."