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China mocks the Olympic spirit -- again

August 5, 2008 |  6:32 pm

Updated at 10:18 PST with this news from Beijing: "I just learned about this and said, 'Let's get the facts,''' U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said Wednesday when asked about about the Cheek situation. "He is an Olympian, and that's important.''

Updated at 9:06 p.m. PST with this news from Beijing: "We've been made aware through the press that US speed skater Joey Cheek has been denied an entry visa for the People's Republic of China,'' said International Olympic Committee spokesperson Emmannuelle Moreau.  "Visa applications from non-accredited persons do not fall within the IOC's remit and we are therefore not best placed to answer you on this question."

Updated at 7:32 p.m. PST with this news from Beijing: "We first learned of this today," said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Darryl Seibel on Wednesday morning.  " We will contact the U.S. Embassy to see what they may know about this."

BEIJING -- Just got this message from Team Darfur about how China is treating an athlete who comes closest to embodying all the Olympic ideals.

The revocation of a visa already issued to Team Darfur co-founder Joey Cheek, speedskating gold medalist at the 2006 Winter Olympics, is another sign of China's disdain for human rights and fair play, both alleged cornerstones of the Olympic Charter.

And another sign of the shame the International Olympic Committee's leadership has brought on itself and the upcoming Summer Games by not holding this repressive government accountable for promises of openness it made when Beijing was named 2008 host seven years ago. Cheek not only co-founded Team Darfur but gave all his $40,000 in 2006 medal bonuses from the U.S. Olympic Committee to Right to Play, the worldwide organization founded to promote health and hope for disadvantaged children in developing nations

That began an avalanche of donations from other athletes, the USOC, private individuals and companies.

Here is the e-mail message:

The Chinese embassy in Washington, DC today (Tuesday) revoked the visa of Olympic gold medalist and Team Darfur co-founder Joey Cheek to travel to Beijing for the Olympic Games.  The Chinese government official who called Cheek stated simply that he was “not required to give a reason” for revoking visas.

Cheek had planned to attend the Games to support the 72-plus athletes who will be competing in Beijing who have signed onto Team Darfur. Those athletes, along with hundreds of other former Olympians, have pledged to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in Darfur, and what China and the international community can do to stop it.

Cheek's statement follows.  His eloquent words convey a passion for the Olympics that not even China and the IOC can diminish, despite the stunning hypocrisy both have shown in not standing behind their empty words.

I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games,'' Cheek said.  ``The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible.  However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur.  Team Darfur’s main efforts have been to advocate for an Olympic Truce for Darfur, and to raise awareness about the crisis and ask for lasting peace on behalf of the children of Darfur.

The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict.  The Chinese government’s efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.

I still remained convinced of the great role the Olympics can play as a force for promoting peace around the world, including in still raging crisis in Darfur.  Yet, despite the fact that I’ve always spoken positively of the Olympic ideal, and never called for a boycott or asked an athlete to break an IOC rule, my visa was revoked less than 24 hours before my scheduled departure.''

-- Philip Hersh