The buzz is building for this summer’s Olympics. There are many records set to be broken and many athletes will establish themselves as the future of their respective sports. However, some athletes have another thought in the back of their minds – the suffering men, women, and children in Darfur. Most of those athletes have […]
The buzz is building for this summer’s Olympics. There are many records set to be broken and many athletes will establish themselves as the future of their respective sports. However, some athletes have another thought in the back of their minds – the suffering men, women, and children in Darfur. Most of those athletes have joined with Team Darfur to raise awareness about Darfur and to encourage China, the Olympic host, and all nations of the world to take responsible actions to alleviate the suffering of so many Darfurians.
Team Darfur is an international coalition of athletes committed to raising awareness about and bringing an end to the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Team Darfur was co-founded by Olympic gold medalist speed skater Joey Cheek and UCLA water polo player Brad Greiner. Joey represented the United States as a member of the men’s Speed skating team at the 2006 Turin Olympics. After winning gold in the 500m race and silver in the 1000m, he donated the $40,000 in medal bonuses awarded to 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. This act of generosity also helped get the still little known conflict in Darfur into the news. After seeing the impact of his action Joey wanted to encourage other athletes to use their time in the spotlight to raise awareness about one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Team Darfur now has over 380 athletes representing 63 countries from around the world, and the numbers continue to grow. Team Darfur athletes have shown their support for the people of Darfur by wearing Team Darfur gear, expressing their concerns to the media, participating in awareness-raising events, and recruiting their fellow athletes and competitors to join the movement. Many well-known athletes have joined the cause including Philip Dunn, an Olympic racewalker, who will be competing in his third straight Olympic Games for the United States. Doug Lennox II, an Olympic swimmer from Puerto Rico, has also served as an active voice for Darfur. Both athletes have signed the open letter that asks the international community to call for an Olympic Truce for Darfur.
Lennox recently spoke at a symbolic torch relay for Darfur in Montclair, NJ. He walked alongside Darfuri refugees, politicians, a Special Olympics gold medalist and over 1,000 members of the Montclair community in solidarity with the people of Darfur. Team Darfur is a very important organization to him. “I joined Team Darfur because I believe in the idea of paying it forward,” he said. “I realized that after achieving my Olympic dreams that I have been bestowed even greater opportunities than a new level of athletic competition. In learning more about Darfur, I have become much more aware of the atrocities occurring in other parts of the world to which I had no previous exposure.”
Philip Dunn strongly believes in speaking out about wrongdoings in the world. “One of the things that I have found frustrating as an Olympic athlete is the USOC’s desire to create apolitical ambassadors of sport: mute, smiling, sports robots. When athletes have the rare opportunity to be heard on important social, economic or political issues, we should be given a voice to speak loudly and clearly. Thank you, Team Darfur, for creating an outlet for our expression of discontent with human rights violations in Darfur and around the world.” Dunn has spoken to the press on these issues while wearing his Team Darfur T-shirt.
To date, athletes have participated in press conferences on Capitol Hill and at the Chinese Mission to the UN, met with members of Congress and members of the International Olympic Committee, and testified before the Senate. Team Darfur athletes were also instrumental in reversing a trend practiced by Olympic Committees in which they attempted to gag their athletes on human rights issues. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Belgium all made early attempts to ban political speech by athletes at the Olympics. This news quickly made its way to the press who were anxious to speak with Team Darfur athletes. The attention given to this issue has led both the UK and New Zealand to weaken or reverse their ban on athletes’ right to free speech. Team Darfur athletes are now working to enact an Olympic Truce in Darfur by calling upon the UN Security Council, with China in the lead, to implement the Olympic Truce for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
In just a few short weeks, over 60 Team Darfur athletes will be competing in Beijing. We hope you’ll join us in cheering on their efforts in their sports, and their efforts for the people of Darfur. You can show your support by wearing a Team Darfur tshirt or sweatband during the games, and by following Team Darfur’s athletes at www.TeamDarfur.org.
Photos from top: Joey Cheek and Daoud Hari delivering signatures to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC; Doug Lennox at a symbolic torch relay in Montclair, NJ; Team Darfur athletes showing their support for the team headed to Beijing.
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