An Interview with German Olympian Imke Duplitzer

August 13, 2008 Updated: August 13, 2008
2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Rapier/Women/Finals: (L)Imke Duplitzer (Germany), (R)Oxana Ermakove (Russia), August, 2004. Duplitzer was awarded the silver medal. (Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)
2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Rapier/Women/Finals: (L)Imke Duplitzer (Germany), (R)Oxana Ermakove (Russia), August, 2004. Duplitzer was awarded the silver medal. (Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)


The Beijing Olympics are Imke Duplitzer’s fourth Olympic Games, with the first in 1996, then 2000 and 2004. But, she will not partake in the opening ceremonies. This epee fencer [an epee fencer is not restricted to hit any body part of its target with the tip.] spoke about human rights and her point of view as an athlete of the human rights situation in China during an interview.

Imke Duplitzer won the silver medal in the epee competition with her teammates in 2004; Runner-up in the single 2002; European Champion 1999; Military Champion 97/99; German Champion 199/2000/2110/2002/2004/2006); won multiple medals with her team when competing at world and Europe championships.

On Olympic Values, Beijing, and Human Rights

Epoch Times Germany (ETD): Ms Duplitzer. Please tell us about your memories as a participant in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games!

Imke Duplitzer (ID): I experienced unbelievable touching moments and forged many lifelong friendships. Yet, there also were many bitter moments. For example, I fainted in 2000, and therefore my team, that was already the most likely champion, had to accept defeat during the last contest.
The most memorable moment in my life was in 2004. At that time I was expelled by the club because I told the truth and criticized the club’s sponsorship practices. I also addressed how the club distributed money. My former trainer arranged his vacation especially so he could be present at the tournament during which we won the silver medal. I gained the upper hand with my last strike against the French team. It was wonderful to see his happiness at our win.

ETD: What do you expect from the 2008 Beijing games?

ID: I hope that we can enjoy great sportsmanship.

ETD: Would you please tell our readers your stand on human rights in China and how it relates to the Olympic Games?

ID: This is rather complex and can't be touched upon in just three sentences, especially since the Chinese regime has a different understanding of human rights and freedom of opinion. This probably also has arisen from the regime's fear that 1 or 3 billion Chinese might turn creative. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might suddenly be faced with a great problem, as the system in the existing form may no longer be able to function.

Imke Duplitzer in 2004 (Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Imke Duplitzer in 2004 (Mueller/Bongarts/Getty Images)

On the other hand, the Olympics were awarded to the Chinese because one hoped for a positive development. It certainly is very unfortunate that the Olympics are linked with the CCP, especially given the recent bloody defeat of the Tibetan uprising. This regime is in some way also the descendant institution of the regime that had perpetrated the Tiananmen Square Massacre and ran with tanks over the protesters.

Additionally, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has acted rather clumsily concerning the situation. Even today, the IOC has not given the athletes a clear direction as how to handle the situation.

Concerning this, I tried to start a discussion during which I asked, "What are human rights? Are these virtues that can be connected with this Olympic movement? Especially when one considers that the Olympic movement is selling such values! Or, are these political issues? Or, are they perhaps a value that has become a political issue because we are guests in a country that has problems with respecting human rights?”

I believe that this must be defined clearly. Only then can one discuss the human rights issue in connection with the Olympic Games in China. But, one cannot forget at this point in time how nervous everyone is regarding this issue, because much is at issue and as we say—one does not get nervous when the issue is immaterial.

ETD: Thomas Bach, IOC Vice President, said recently, "We cannot forget during all discussions that this is all about sports."

ID: On one hand, I have to agree with him. Yes, it is all about sports. This is often forgotten during this discussion. I'm talking about the issue as an athlete, because I have been thinking deeply on the subject. But, many of the athletes do not even want to think about the issue, because they may not discuss this subject because of restrictions on what to say, and how to behave.

I belief strongly that athletes have a right to practice their sport; they have a right to perform their profession, especially since we are part of the entertainment industry. Our duty is to provide great sports tournaments, so every one who tunes in through the television or other media enjoys the event.

At the same time it should take his/her mind off unpleasant circumstances. Given that, Mr. Bach is right on. But, he does not have the leisure to bank on this type of reasoning as the IOC Vice President and tell the public, it is nothing more than just sport. This is a watered down response and he is taking the easy way out.

October 14, 2005 in Leipzig. Duplitzer after her victory, helping her team win the bronze medal against Russia during the World Fencing Championship (Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)
October 14, 2005 in Leipzig. Duplitzer after her victory, helping her team win the bronze medal against Russia during the World Fencing Championship (Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images)
ETD: On one had, the IOC says that China’s Olympics encourage improvement of human rights and on the other hand they say when they are called to task that it has nothing to do with politics. What is your take regarding this?

ID: It just doesn’t work this way, especially when North and South Korea marched in as one team, the IOC let it be known that they were supportive of such unifying gestures. What I’m trying to say is that the IOC is very willing to accept responsibility when things go well, and when the things go against what they expected, they will put aside all what they had said before and announce that the activities are a sports initiative and nothing more.

The problem has become obvious. The IOC is also involved economically and its role is not clearly defined, that is, its intentions are not transparent. Actually, how the IOC should act is not set in concrete and it is open for debate. Can you define for me in two sentences the objectives of the International Olympic Committee? This can’t be accomplished. Given the political and economic interdependence that has developed over the years, a clear definition is not so easy to come by.

Once one functions on a certain level one can’t just shrug responsibility off and say, “Ah, we are only involved in sports.” This can’t be done, especially when one realizes the different UN bodies these people belong to. There is a connection to politics and business. Therefore, one can’t just play dumb and say, “We, the IOC, live in an environment that is not politicized and has no economic involvements. We are only involved in pure sports.”

One also can no longer stipulate that the IOC is not an economic undertaking. In my mind, the IOC is an organization, because it is registered as an economic entity in Switzerland and the IOC has also a so-called “escape route,” in case the Olympics would be cancelled for any reason. The losses could be covered with ease by the IOC. And, if one really knows the sums involved, one can imagine how much cushion they have collected over the years. I do ask myself are these really a true cushion, or is this the capital that is the backbone of the IOC? But, when we have attained capital, we have become a commercial enterprise.

One cannot claim that they have nothing to do with politics and sports live in a political neutral zone/vacuum. People are members of the National Olympic Committee of Germany (NOK) who at the same time are politicians or at least are somehow involved in politics. Given that, I can’t pretend that we are without political encumbrance. It is a joke, especially when Mr. Schmitz who is involved with the adult education center and Ilse vom Sparmarkt, the President of the German Sports Federation (DOSB) and who both have their personal interests—no matter the motivation behind it—are at the same time representing the Olympic Committee. This has to be addressed, and one should be allowed to address such a controversy without the IOC rising in indignation because of their position and claim “We are the guardians of a higher ideal, and to insinuate that we have such low intentions is outrageous and presumptuous.”

The IOC uses the Olympic ideals as a tool to convey the values espoused by society. In the past it was said, “When the Olympic Games are played, the guns are silenced.” This idea is perfect, just neat. But, one must constantly be vigilant that one does not use the tool “value” that connotes a moral value and combine it with economic values. I must repeat that one has to be extremely cautious that one does not change and sell “a Trojan horse that is built of moral values” as one with “economic values.”

It is with certainty that one has a sour taste in the mouth when one stands in this truly architectural great Beijing stadium and then realizes how many migrant workers were “forced into labor” to build this thing. Yes, one can again say that this has nothing to do with sports—but again, this is again too simplistic, because it truly is part of the entire picture, because we will perform in this sports stadium that was built under circumstances which truth we will never find out. And I definitely hold the thought that these migrant workers were not treated as being “bedded on roses” and that they were given a Thailand massage after a day of hard labor.

ETD: In the context of what you just said, how to you define politics? Is the right not to be tortured or not to be murdered a simple human right, or does this fall under the category politics?

ID: These are the arguments I wanted to discuss. Are human rights values or have they risen to a political agenda, because we will be in a communist environment in China, which has a problem with enforcing these fundamental values?

I always spoke of a political Chinese system. In this instance it is called CCP. But, you can call this thing any way you want. One cannot shift gears. Such an issue is irrelevant, because it addresses something of internal worth. It is a concept, a system and one has to, especially in China, differentiate between the ordinary people, by ordinary I mean the Chinese people—such as you and me—and the political system in China. It is said that there are 1.3 billion Chinese. But, the 1.3 billion Chinese were infiltrated through propaganda by a small minority and not by what we can call the political system. There are people who tell me that I split hairs. But, for me there is a difference between splitting hairs and a differing opinion.
Something that is very important in my understanding is that I don’t want to offend the 1.3 billion Chinese. This is not what I have done. I’m distancing myself from such an assumption. It bothers me when people claim that I hate China. I’m not criticizing the Chinese people, but the granting of the Olympic Games with a precondition. It is the same as if I would speak of the Games being awarded to Sotchi [a popular health resort in Russia that most likely will be the place where the 2014 Olympics Games will be held]. Can you imagine how many Russians I would offend? This is just an example of how one generalizes issues instead addressing the real problems. That is what I’m talking about.

ETD: What is going to happen if an athlete will address favorably the theme Tibet, human rights or Falun Gong in some way or form? This is not something the IOC wants to happen.

ID: This is an excellent question. Unfortunately, I can’t answer it at this time and not because I don’t want to talk about it, but, because I can’t respond to it. The IOC published a 6-point plan that defines freedom of opinion more narrowly. But, in reality it is not defined at all. One of these points states that the IOC reserves the right to set guidelines in how to deal with the issue. Therefore, we are bound by the interpretation of the IOC. But, as an athlete we do not have a complete understanding of what we are allowed to do and what not, as stipulated by the IOC. I can’t find a clear delineation in the IOC directive.

Number 6 of this directive is rather interesting, because it states that one will be under the legal jurisdiction of a particular country. Now, I wonder if I may speak the word Dalai Lama while in China? This is really one of my questions, because what we can talk about in a free society could be called provocative in China. This is not transparent and much too complex for an athlete.

At the same time I cannot forget that I have an obligation towards my club. Now, if I’m caught saying something that is taboo in that country does that mean I won’t be allowed to travel there. This way, I will have eliminated a person and weakened my club’s position. And, should Mr. Vesper ask me with respect to Tibet and human rights, “Why are you going there?” I would feel as if having been slapped in the face. I’m quite aware that I have a responsibility towards my club.

Believe me, all of this is for an athlete not an easy issue and it is difficult to do the right thing.

ETD: May I ask you about your personal values?

ID: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” This is one of the proverbs I try to live by. This is one of the reasons that I’m slightly interested in Buddhism and find the philosophy that is the mainstay of Bhuddism highly beneficial. One should look as to how I confront others, because he/she is a human who has feelings, just as I do. And, if I want the other person to respect my feelings, I have to respect his/her feelings.

ETD: Ms. Duplitzer, we thank you for granting us this interview and wish you success in your future fencing endeavors.