LONDON – The British government warned Syria's Olympic leader on Wednesday that he could be banned from attending the London Games because of his close ties with President Bashar Assad.
Syrian national Olympic committee head Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa is not on a European Union travel-ban list that features Assad and has said he plans to attend the July 27-Aug. 12 games.
"I think that might be a situation that is developing as we speak," British sports minister Hugh Robertson said. "We will have to see when his application comes through ... we would have to talk to the IOC but yes, of course, we can (block Joumaa's entry)."
Joumaa is an aide of Assad, whose regime has launched a violent crackdown on Syria's opposition over the last 13 months.
"Anyone who applies for a visa for the games who comes from a country where there might be questions raised goes in front of a committee where those cases are individually looked at," Robertson said exactly 100 days before the Olympics opening ceremony. "Any that are contentious (cases) come to ministers to sign off, and we have the power to refuse anybody a visa.
"It will be the foreign secretary who decides and he will ask us if there are any overriding sports reasons why we should take a different view."
Although some critics have objected to the possibility that Syrian officials could attend the games, Joumaa said he had been invited this month and insisted: "I am going to the Olympic Games."
Despite the Assad regime pledging to respect a week-old cease-fire to end 13 months of bloodshed, Syrian forces assaulted an opposition stronghold with a steady rain of mortar shells on Wednesday as the regime ignored a deadline to get tanks and troops off the streets.
As London marked 100 days before the opening ceremony, Robertson addressed the International Olympic Committee's ongoing talks with Saudi Arabia about sending women to compete.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei are the only countries that have never included women on their Olympic teams.
"There have been slightly conflicting signals coming out of Riyadh," Robertson said. "There was a less promising statement a couple of weeks ago. The IOC are working on the issue and are going to try to find a way so that some Saudi women are able to compete.
"You are always balancing the conservative elements in Saudi Arabia against those who want to reach out. Of course, I would very much like to see Saudi women competing in London."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris