Athletes Call for 55-Day Truce in Sudan's Darfur

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The somber realization struck speedskater Joey Cheek during the 2006 Turin Games: While he was competing, it was likely innocent people in Darfur would be driven from their homes and left for dead.

"I began to realize my obligation and my opportunity as long as I have the spotlight is to be able to help those who are not able to help themselves," he said.

Cheek, co-founder and president of Team Darfur and a three-time Olympic medalist, led a five-member panel at the National Press Club yesterday that released a letter calling upon international leaders to pressure the Sudanese government to observe a 55-day Olympic truce period for the Darfur region, starting Aug. 1.

The letter has ample support. More than 130 athletes from 22 countries have co-signed, including 18 who have qualified for the Beijing Games. The letter asks leaders to insist that the Sudanese government not bomb its unarmed civilian population, to make progress in the peace process and to use the period to allow humanitarian workers to have access to those without food, water and medical care.

The Olympic truce has ancient roots. It began in Greece in the 9th century B.C., and in recent years, world leaders have invoked the tradition to promote international unity. On Oct. 31, 2007, China introduced a U.N. resolution supporting a truce for the Beijing Games; 186 nations adopted the initiative, including Sudan.

Experts estimate as many as 450,000 people have died in Darfur since fighting began in 2003.

"Unfortunately, I'm still talking about this," Cheek said. "Not that I don't believe it's worth fighting for, but that the international community has not taken greater steps to make this happen."

-- Andrew Astleford

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