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Countdown to Beijing

Outspoken '06 Medalist Cheek Has Visa Revoked

Gold medal speedskater Joey Cheek, right, leads a rally at the Chinese Embassy in Washington in December with actress Mia Farrow and radio host Joe Madison.
Gold medal speedskater Joey Cheek, right, leads a rally at the Chinese Embassy in Washington in December with actress Mia Farrow and radio host Joe Madison. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)

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By Liz Clarke and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BEIJING, Aug. 6 -- The Chinese government on Tuesday revoked the visa of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek, effectively barring the speedskating champion and social activist from attending the 2008 Beijing Games.

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Cheek is co-founder of Team Darfur, an organization composed of athletes attempting to draw attention to human rights violations in Darfur. China is a major customer of the oil produced in the war-torn region of Sudan.

Cheek said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that he received a call shortly after 5 p.m. (Eastern time) from someone either from the Chinese embassy or consulate who informed him that his visa had been revoked.

"I asked for a reason, and they said we don't give reasons," said Cheek, 29, a part-time Washington resident who was scheduled to leave for Beijing on Wednesday afternoon.

He said his visa request had been granted a few weeks ago. "I said, who else can I speak to about this, and they said, 'There is no other recourse.' "

Cheek said that Team Darfur's co-founder, former UCLA water polo player Brad Greiner, had received a similar call about 10 minutes earlier.

The two had planned to attend the Games, which officially open on Friday, to support more than 70 Olympians from around the world who have signed on to support Team Darfur.

The action by Chinese officials is precisely the sort of measure that has been feared by those with misgivings about the International Olympic Committee's decision in 2001 to award the Games to China: that the country's officials would thwart the free expression of visitors and muzzle dissent among activists both inside and outside the country despite promises to the contrary.

By barring the co-founders of Team Darfur, China sent a powerful worldwide message without having to bar actual participants in the Games, which would interfere with the orderly, harmonious competition that China President Hu Jintao has vowed to stage.

"I'm not surprised they did this, because they said they were going to keep out activists," Olympic historian David Wallechinsky said from Beijing. "But these are legitimate Olympians with a history with the Olympics. I'd sure like to know what the [International Olympic Committee has to say about this]. I think it's really disappointing."

A spokeswoman for the IOC said the organization had learned of the development through the media and referred questions to Chinese officials.

"These applications from non-accredited press, this doesn't come within the IOC's [purview]," spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said.


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