washingtonpost.com
Olympics: Activists Barred From Games By Chinese Government
China a Major Customer of Sudan Oil

Brad Greiner and Martha Bixby
Former UCLA Water Polo Player and Co-Founder, Team Darfur and Executive Director
Wednesday, August 6, 2008 2:00 PM

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.

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 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.

Just before flying to Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games, President Bush plans to give a speech in the Bangkok that will include blunt language on human rights in China, saying that "America stands in firm opposition" to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists.

Greiner and Team Darfur executive director Martha Bixby were Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss all of the latest developments.

A transcript follows.

Complete Olympics Coverage

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Martha Bixby: Hi everyone, thanks for joining us!

Yesterday evening Joey Cheek, the president and co-founder of Team Darfur heard from the Chinese Embassy that his visa to Beijing had been revoked. We at Team Darfur are all very disappointed by this development, but know that this points to a systemic effort by the Chinese Government to silence athletes who speak out about the crisis in Darfur.

Team Darfur's main efforts to date 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.

We look forward to talking to you about Team Darfur, the 72 athletes who are competing in Beijing, and what athletes can do to help the people of Darfur.

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Brad Greiner: Hello everyone,

This is Brad Greiner, one of the co-founders of Team Darfur. I founded Team Darfur with Joey because I feel that Olympic athletes can make a significant difference in the world by raising awareness about Darfur.

I look forward to this discussion.

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Washington, D.C.: If you were a current U.S. Olympic athlete in these games, what would you do? Would you protest? Just compete? What's the "right" thing to do?

Brad Greiner: If I were a current US Olympic athlete, the first thing I would want to do is use my down-time to learn about major issues surrounding these Olympic Games. As far as protesting is concerned, I feel it is important to honor the ideals of the Olympics, and therefore I would not choose to protest.

Instead I would focus on competing, and if asked by reporters for my views on issues like Darfur, I would give my honest opinion. I think the right thing for athletes to do, regardless of if they chose to join Team Darfur, would be to not stay silent when asked about issues they care about.

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Anonymous: SAVE DARFUR! I am very happy about Lopez carrying the U.S. flag. Good move.

Martha Bixby: We are very excited that Lopez has been honored in this way by his fellow Olympians. He is a truly remarkable example of what the Olympics can and should be. Lopez was also honored by the Save Darfur coalition as a "Darfur Hero" for the month of August - you can read more here: http://www.teamdarfur.org/node/571.

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Washington, D.C.: What demonstrations do you guys plan to do in Beijing, if the Chinese let you in?

Brad Greiner: We do not plan to hold any demonstrations while in Beijing, if we're let in.

We have spoken with our 72 athletes that are headed to Beijing and as far as we know, they have left their Team Darfur gear at home. Our hope is that when asked questions about Darfur by reporters, our athletes (as well as all athletes) will respond candidly and intelligently.

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washingtonpost.com: Lopez Lomong Named Darfur Hero ( Team Darfur, Aug. 5)

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Baltimore, Md.: Why you trying to embarrass the Chinese people? It's their Olympics; they worked hard to make it happen. The U.S. government routinely denies visas for political activists trying to enter the U.S. I don't think the American people will like foreigners trying to embarrass the U.S. government if the Olympics were held in this country. This seems more about some obscure Winter Olympics athlete trying to get famous.

Brad Greiner: We are not trying to embarrass the Chinese people at all. Both Joey and I have taken an interest in China for a number of years, and have come to love the Chinese culture.

What Team Darfur is trying to accomplish is point out the shortcomings of the Chinese government by being a close friend and ally with the Sudanese regime responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

We feel that if the Chinese firewall were to be taken down and if ordinary Chinese citizens were able to hear the truth about Darfur (and be able to speak out freely against their government), they would agree with the view that China must do more to help end the violence.

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Arlington, Va.: Is the selection of an athlete originally from Sudan to carry the American flag likely to cause the Chinese much heartburn? The Chinese government is certainly showing its true colors these last several months by locking up anyone who dissents and by all accounts making it very difficult for people to get or renew visas. And IOC stands idly by. Is the Olympics really just all about sponsorships and money now? Have the Olympic ideals been permanently overwhelmed by greed?

Martha Bixby: Actually, I think that stories like Lopez Lomong being chosen to carry the American flag show that the Olympic spirit is actually live and well. The fact that his fellow Olympians felt that his perseverance, his determination in the face of adversity, and his continued effort to speak out on behalf of the children suffering in Sudan, means that the Olympics can continue to be an opportunity for the world to come together to support stories like these.

I also think that Joey's story - Olympic gold medalist who donated his $40,000 medal bonus to refugee children - is a great example of the Olympic spirit inspiring courageous and meaningful action.

I can only hope that all of us will watch the Games and cheer on the Lopez's and Joey's of the world - and that the world media will draw attention to these amazing stories as well as the corporate sponsors.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Do you think it is appropriate for the athletes of other countries to use the Olympics or other sporting events to criticize the United States for human rights abuses such as the invasion of Iraq which has killed hundreds of thousands of people?

Brad Greiner: I think it is appropriate for athletes to be protected by the IOC to speak their minds about any issue they feel passionately about. I would wager that there will be some athletes that choose to speak out against the war in Iraq, and I feel they have every right to do so.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Have any international leaders spoken against the revocation of the visas?

Martha Bixby: Members of the US House and Senate have issued statements in support of Joey. You can read a few here: http://www.teamdarfur.org/node/573. Senator Feingold's statement sums up many people's sentiments:

"China's decision to revoke Joey Cheek's visa undermines the spirit of the Olympic Games and China's role as host. As a world leader deeply engaged in Africa, and as host of the Olympic Games, China has a responsibility and an opportunity to help bring peace to Darfur. I call on the Chinese government to use the Olympic Games to push for an end to the conflicts in Sudan and I call on President Bush to raise this issue specifically with the Chinese government during his visit."

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Los Angeles, Calif.: What athletes are on Team Darfur? How many sports is Team Darfur involved in? How many countries?

Brad Greiner: You can find a list of our 395 athletes at www.teamdarfur.org/athletes. These athletes are from 64 countries. As far as our Olympians competing in Beijing, there are 72 athletes from 18 countries in 23 sports.

As you can see on our Web site, we have protected the identity of many of athletes because of pressure by a few Olympic Committees to disassociate from Team Darfur. We find this unfortunate and against the ideals of the Olympics.

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washingtonpost.com: Joey Cheek's Visa to China Revoked ( Team Darfur, Aug. 6)

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Washington, D.C.: The Chinese government's decision to deny these visas reveals how authoritarian China still is -- regardless of its economic reforms. My question is, what can I do to help hold China accountable for its actions in Darfur and Tibet?

Martha Bixby: First thing would be to learn more about it. We've got resources on our Web site, such as here: http://www.teamdarfur.org/learn. Human Rights First has some great statistics on China's involvement in Sudan at http://www.stoparmstosudan.org/.

Second would be to cheer on the athletes going to Beijing who are speaking up about these important issues. You can also send a message of support to Team Darfur athletes headed to Beijing on our Web site: http://www.teamdarfur.org/fanpledge.

Third, I would suggest sending messages to government leaders - members of Congress, the President, the UN Secretary General. Say that you care about Darfur, and would like to see them do all in their power to help bring an end to the crisis. You can send an electronic postcard through our site, http://www.teamdarfur.org/postcards, and you can send messages to congress at www.darfurscores.org.

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Shirlington, Va.: Do you want the press to keep this issue alive by asking about it and thereby use the Olympics to publicize it? Think that will happen?

Brad Greiner: We are certain the press will be asking about Darfur while in Beijing. There will be approximately 25,000 reporters in Beijing, and you can be certain that reporters will want to report on every aspect of the Games, China and the Chinese government. The spotlight this month will be on China, and therefore every issue will be publicized in a way we have never seen before in China.

We also are happy to find that Darfur is now being covered not only on the front page of the news, but also often in the sports section, bringing in an entirely new constituency of citizens that want peace in Darfur.

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washingtonpost.com: Athletes ( Team Darfur)

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think China will reverse its decision?

Brad Greiner: We remain hopeful that the Chinese government will reconsider their decision to revoke Joey, as well as the other fine athletes that were denied visas because of their involvement with Team Darfur.

Many politicians have spoken out in support of Joey today, but instead of working to get a few visas accepted, we hope that they make Darfur a more significant concern in the coming weeks and months.

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Fairfax, Va.: For athletes to protest, that's between them, their NOC, their federation and the IOC. But you aren't athletes in this Olympics. Forgive me, you're just meddlers, all three now denied visas. Why do you think you have any place in Beijing?

Martha Bixby: Joey and Brad were hoping to attend the Olympics to support the Team Darfur athletes competing there. Since Joey is a retired Olympian (once an Olympian, always an Olympian) he especially was hoping to be apart of these historic Olympic Games.

We firmly believe that speaking out about the crisis in Darfur, especially the plight of children, fits firmly within the stated goals of the Olympics. The Olympic Truce resolution, introduced every year in the UN General Assembly "Calls upon all Member States to cooperate with the International Olympic Committee in its efforts to use sport as an instrument to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the Olympic Games period".

Martha Bixby: (Full text of that resolution is here: http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_1247.pdf)

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washingtonpost.com: Urge President Bush to Press Chinese President Hu to Immediately Stop Arms Sales to Sudan ( Human Rights First)

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washingtonpost.com: Resolution (pdf) ( United Nations General Assembly)

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Oklahoma City, Okla.: Do you think the IOC will continue to roll over for China as it breaks all its promises it made two years ago or will they grow a backbone and stand up to them?

Brad Greiner: We continue to be hopeful that the IOC will stand up for athlete's rights to speak freely about issues that concern them. The current track record of the IOC lead us to believe that they will continue to roll over for China, but like I said we remain hopeful.

By calling on an Olympic Truce in Darfur during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, we feel that the IOC could play a major role in publicizing this and leading the way to make this a possibility.

We sure hope the IOC has a backbone when it comes to such a black and white issue of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and we are awaiting their leadership on the Olympic Truce for Darfur.

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New York: You two seem honest, so I'd like to continue the issue of analogy and/or hypocrisy.

Most U.S. athletes will not "rock the boat" when it comes to jeopardizing their incomes. Doesn't this make any of them who criticize China today appear hypocritical? I can remember when no NBA played came to (Chris Jackson's) defense when he was suspended for refusing to stand for the national anthem.

Martha Bixby: One of the reasons why I'm a such a fan of the Olympics is because the athletes are so genuine in their love of sport, country, and increasing their connections and experiences around the world. Seeing so many athletes from around the world gather to compete at badminton, race walking, Taekwondo... and seeing stories emerge such as Joey's, or Lopez's, or the Iraqi athletes who were finally allowed in after much political maneuvering... those keep me inspired, and they keep the Olympians who are members of Team Darfur inspired, and I hope they will inspire a few of you to talk about Darfur and what the world can do to help!

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Washington, D.C.: Are you protesting because of China's cooperative policy with Darfur for oil imports while the humanitarian struggle goes on?

Martha Bixby: Team Darfur athletes focus on drawing attention to the many aspects of the crisis in Darfur, and athletes have called on many parties who can bring a solution to the crisis. A main effort of Team Darfur athletes has been to call for an Olympic Truce (more here: http://www.teamdarfur.org/node/544.) Over 150 athletes signed an open letter to the American, British, Chinese, French and Russian governments as well as the IOC and UN Secretary General calling for them to create lasting peace in Darfur.

The Chinese government, as Olympic Host and supporter of the Sudanese Government, does have a special role to play in bringing an end to the crisis.

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West Hollywood, Calif.: What are your expectations for Team Darfur being involved in the Olympics?

Martha Bixby: We're going to be cheering for the 72 Team Darfur athletes who are competing at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We're very hopeful that the Team Darfur athletes - and any athlete of conscience - will be able to answer questions from the media about Darfur and the human rights issues that matter to them.

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Columbia, Md.: Why only Team Darfur? Why not Team 'Stop the Occupation of Iraq'? Are you using the Olympics to get donations from Americans who hate the Chinese for becoming a superpower.

Brad Greiner: Joey and I both feel that the crisis in Darfur is the worst humanitarian crisis facing the world today. We feel that the Olympics in Beijing are the appropriate venue to speak about Darfur, largely because of China's inaction to help end the violence.

We are using the Olympics to raise money for Darfur and in no way feel that Americans should hate the Chinese. What needs to be differentiated here is the Chinese citizens and the government. Like I said earlier, we feel that if the Chinese government were to take down the firewall preventing access to Chinese citizens, they would agree that their government should be doing more to end the violence in Darfur.

That being said, we welcome donations from Americans that agree with our campaign!

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Boston, Mass.: Is the Chinese government actually helping the cause by not only refusing to discuss the issue, but also by seeking to exclude those who might raise it?

Martha Bixby: I think the increased media attention to this issue will definitely help the people of Darfur. I am hopeful, though, that the Chinese government will do more to help the issue by asking the Sudanese government to stop the killings in Darfur.

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Washington, D.C.: This is just a FYI: U.S. decathlon athlete Chris Boyles's visa was declined yesterday afternoon at the Chinese Consulate in Washington, presumably for the same reason.

Brad Greiner: I wanted to add to my last comment, regarding donations. If you would like to donate to Team Darfur, the link is: https://teamdarfur.ngphost.com/crmapi/contribute

Thank you in advance for contributing to our campaign and for contributing to this discussion.

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Dayton, Ohio: Who is Joey Cheek? Why should he be allowed to go to China?

Brad Greiner: Originally an inline skater from North Carolina, Joey quickly mastered the ice and became a world record-setting speed skater. At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Joey represented the United States as a member of the men's USA Speed skating team. After winning gold in the 500m race and silver in the 1000m, he donated the $40,000 awarded him to Right To Play, an international aid organization focused on bringing the benefits of sport and play to the most disadvantaged children in the world. Joey's donation inspired his sponsors and other athletes to collectively donate over one million dollars to children in Darfur.

After his Olympic press conference, Joey was elected by his teammates to carry the US flag into the closing ceremonies, and Time magazine named him one of their "100 people who shape our world." Joey is the recipient of the DHL Olympic Spirit award, the 2006 National Sportsmanship Award, and the inaugural Heisman Humanitarian Award.

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Philadelphia: Is there anything that can be done, practically, to make the IOC hold China to keep all the promise it made in order to be awarded the Olympics? While China's decision to revoke the visas is shameful, it is not the least bit surprising (and, sadly, far from the worst the country has done or is likely to do through the Olympic period).

Well, maybe the visa revocation will, in the end, turn out better for publicizing what is going in Darfur? Given the media blocks, you might be able to speak and be heard more easily by standing outside.

Martha Bixby: We can hope that the IOC will ask the Chinese government to work to support peace in Darfur. Public statements on behalf of peace in Darfur would be a wonderful first step for the IOC to take. They can also use the personal relationships they have created with Chinese government officials throughout the process of bringing the Games to Beijing. The IOC, as the organizing body of the Olympic Games, has an incredible moral weight behind it's statements. I hope they will consider using that moral weight to help bring peace to Darfur.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Your protests are going to be viewed by the Chinese people that see it as hypocrisy and paternalistic given the human rights record of the United States. They are going to be wondering why you aren't spending your effort trying to improve the U.S. Chinese people are trying to improve China.

Brad Greiner: Thank you for your opinion on this issue. We feel that the firewall in China is preventing Chinese citizens from knowing the truth about many issues, one of them being Darfur. I am convinced that if the Chinese citizens were able to view the news that the majority of the world has access to, they would not feel that our actions are a hypocrisy.

Also, Team Darfur does not advocate any form of protest during the Olympic Games. We feel that athletes can speak about this issue to reporters, while still being respectful to the Chinese people by not protesting their Games.

Martha Bixby: I also want to emphasize that Team Darfur athletes come from 64 different countries, and they have all been asking their governments to do what they can to ensure peace in Darfur. We believe it is important for individuals to work within their country for change both at home and abroad, and Team Darfur athletes are speaking out with their unique platform as elite athletes to spread the word about the crisis in Darfur.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: I am a big fan of Yao Ming. I know he is playing on the Chinese basketball team. Has he expressed any interest in Team Darfur? As a Chinese citizen he would be a great support.

Brad Greiner: We have not approached Yao Ming for the simple fact that we feel Team Darfur would put him in a very difficult position. BOCOG has gone to great lengths to deny athletes from speaking out as members of Team Darfur, and while we would love the attention a player link Ming would bring to this cause, out of respect we have not approached him.

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Indianapolis, Ind.: You guys are great! I will be supporting the Team Darfur athletes in the Olympics!

Martha Bixby: Thanks! We'll be cheering for them as well.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of what President Bush is saying in Bangkok today about human rights in China?

Brad Greiner: We were excited to hear that President Bush will be speaking about human rights today in China. We were likewise excited to hear that President Bush and his staff have gone up to bat for Joey's visa being revoked.

We feel that President Bush can play a large role for Darfur by urging the Chinese government to help deploy a robust UNAMID peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Lopez Lomong will be holding the flag for Team USA at the opening ceremonies, and our hope is that this will be a reminder to President Bush of the on-going crisis in Darfur and the role athletes can play about raising awareness about this issue.

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Brad Greiner: Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to give you our views of Team Darfur and the role we feel athletes can and should play during the Olympics in Beijing.

Please support our athletes by logging on to www.teamdarfur.org and follow their progress as they blog for our site during the Games

Martha Bixby: Sorry we couldn't get to all the questions today, but please keep in touch with us at www.teamdarfur.org. Thank you all for your opinions and for those messages of support for the Team Darfur athletes whose visas were denied, and for those who are in Beijing competing and living the Olympic dream!

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