In Defense of Team Darfur

In Defense of Team Darfur




I never thought I’ve live to see the day I’d agree with Mitt Romney on anything. But this time, the man with the Ken doll hair got it exactly right. Romneywas raising his voice in objection to 2006 Gold Medalist and Team Darfur founder Joey Cheek being denied entry into China and said, "Joey Cheek is by no means an out-of-control radical." This is true. Unlike Romney Idon’t mean it as a compliment.



I don’t mean it derisively either, just a statement of fact. Team Darfur is an international coalition of athletes committed to raising awareness of the crisis in Darfur (2008 American 1500 runner Lopez Lomong, who will carry the US flag during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics is among their ranks).Yesterday, I appeared on al-Jazeera English’s Riz Khan show along with Cheek and1968 medalist Dr. John Carlos, who along with Tommie Smith raised ablack gloved fist to protest injustice during the Olympics forty years ago in Mexico City. Cheek is legitimately shocked that his visa was denied. Team Darfur is a very moderate organization. It didn’t call for a boycott of the games and even supported China’s hosting of the Olympics, hoping it would bring them closer into "the community of nations." One of the most striking things Cheek said was that in 2006, he gave his prize money for winning the speed skating gold to children’s charities in Africa and everyone cheered. Now that he isspeaking out on why the children of Darfur need help, he is brandedas a menace. It was hard to not think of the famous Oscar Romeroquote, "When I fed the poor, I was a saint.," said the slain ElSalvadoran priest. "When I asked why they were poor, I was a communist."It was also hard to not notice the contrast between Cheek and Dr. Carlos.Joey Cheek wanted to go to China to raise awareness about China’sshortcomings on the question of human rights. Dr. Carlos didn’t go toMexico City to speak out about Mexico, but the United States’ inabilityto live up to its ideals. One wonders if Cheek would have the support ofMr. Romney if he was going to China to protest the way US corporationshave helped supply the 300,000 closed circuit cameras for the games, orthe way China is underwriting the US occupations of Iraq andAfghanistan.



Ultimately, China may get hoisted by its own petard for denying Cheek entry. All it will do is anger other athletes on Team Darfur. Also, the more China tries to keep everything spit shined and clean, the more even the smallest protests will grab attention. For example, forty athletes including Cuban 110 meter hurdler Dayron Robles and US track star Dee Dee Trotter have signed a letter calling upon China to respect human rights.



The letter calls on Chinese President Hu Jintao to enable a peacefulsolution for the issue of Tibet and other conflicts in your country withrespect to fundamental principles of human rights". It also calls for anend to the death penalty, another point that certainly George W. Bushwould have preferred to be left on the cutting room floor.


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Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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