By Chris Chase
Olympic gold medalist and outspoken Darfur activist Joey Cheek has had his visa revoked by the Chinese embassy, hours before the speedskating champion was set to fly to China. And he wasn't even planning on wearing a mask when he got there.
Chinese officials don't need a reason to revoke anyone's visa but, in their eyes, they had plenty of reasons to snatch Cheek's. He is the founder of Team Darfur, a group of 70 athletes whose goal it is to raise global awareness of the human-rights violations taking part in the Darfur region of Sudan. China's military, economic and diplomatic ties to Sudan have been well-publicized in the lead-up to the Games.
Said Cheek of his ban in a prepared statement:
"I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games. The Olympic Games represent something powerful: that people can come together from around the world and do things that no one thought were possible. However, the denial of my visa is a part of a systemic effort by the Chinese government to coerce and threaten athletes who are speaking out on behalf of the innocent people of Darfur.
Cheek was going to China to support the athletes on Team Darfur -- including soccer player Abby Wambach -- and to promote the cause, one that he has championed for years. After winning gold in the Torino Games, Cheek announced he was donating his $25,000 USOC bonus to Darfur and implored his sponsors to do the same. It seems that Joey Cheek is truly one of the good guys.
And now he's out of China before he even got there. With the Games getting closer (just two days away now), the world seemed ready to forget about all the Chinese issues in order to focus on the Games themselves. Unfortunately, China's actions make that impossible. In a time when we should be wondering who will light the Olympic cauldron, whether Michael Phelps can break an all-time record and how Liu Xiang will react to the pressure of 1.3 billion of his countrymen hanging on his every step, we're instead left to discuss the Chinese government's reluctance to allow any dissension in their country, despite repeated promises that they'd clean up their act when the Olympics came to town.