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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 5, 2008 6:19 PM

Athlete/activist Joey Cheek banned from China

Posted by Ron Judd

So much for tolerating dissent.

The Chinese government, which so far has issued a grand total of zero permits for its own citizens to protest legally during the coming Olympics, has revoked the visitation visa of U.S. speedskater and Winter Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek.

Cheek, an organizer of Team Darfur, a group of Olympic athletes seeking to bring an end to the humanitarian crisis in the African nation, was to arrive in Beijing Wednesday to help make the group's case that China is undermining efforts to end suffering in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Cheek was informed by embassy officials Tuesday that his visa was withdrawn and that the government needn't provide a reason, a spokesman for Team Darfur told the Los Angeles Times. Another of the group's founding members, former UCLA water polo player Brad Greiner, also got a call and was asked to meet with Chinese embassy officials on Wednesday.

Cheek, inspired by the prior humanitarian work of speedskating legend Johann Olav Koss of Norway, donated all of his $40,000 bonus money for winning a gold and silver medal at the 2006 Turin Games to Koss's Right to Play foundation, a sports group working to improve the lives of children in disadvantaged areas around the globe.

Other athletes met his challenge, and so did their sponsors: Cheek wound up earning $1 million in charity earmarked for Darfur relief, and is considered a hero among many athletes and others in the sports world. His latest endeavor, Team Darfur, is an effort to raise money and awareness of the Darfur crisis by selling wristbands to athletes and fans. More than 70 Beijing Games athletes from around the world have signed on to Team Darfur.

Cheek released this statement on Tuesday:

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. Team Darfur's main efforts 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.

The Olympic Truce captures the spirit of the Olympics: around the Games, the world should come together to work for peace and speak out against conflict. The Chinese government's efforts to suppress athletes, even those who are competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who speak about essential human rights issues, is a violation of that core Olympic spirit.

Cheek and others have criticized China for buying oil from Sudan, and selling the Sudanese weapons that reportedly are used in Darfur.

Now he's banned from China, latest Olympic host, for the crime of pushing the joint causes of fair play and human rights -- both key tenets of the Olympic Charter.

UPDATE: If you were expecting the IOC to take a stance against an Olympic host denying a gold-medal winning Olympic athlete entrance to an Olympics, think again.

An IOC spokeswoman, contacted by the New York Times, essentially washed the organization's hands of the matter, saying it's all up to the Chinese:

Emmanuelle Moreau, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, said she was aware of Cheek's visa situation but said she could not comment. Because Cheek is not a current Olympian, "visa applications from non-accredited persons do not fall within the I.OC.'s remit and we are therefore not best placed to answer you on this question," Moreau said in an e-mail message.

A spokesperson for the Beijing Organizing Committee, meanwhile, had no comment, the Times reported.

So this is how it's going to go. The Chinese government will simply stonewall and deny complaints about any controversial facets of "its" Olympics -- from the polluted air inside Olympic venues to the outright banning of prominent Olympic athletes from the Games -- and the IOC will plead impotence.

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Posted by Allan N.

12:17 AM, Aug 06, 2008

Ron, great article and I know you've been a fan of Joey Cheek in the past. I'm proud of him and disgusted with the Chinese for their actions. But, the IOC reminds me of David Stern in the way they will go to great lengths to facilitate the agenda of the "owners" of the games. The Swiss have a history of ignoring atrocities and apparently the IOC follows suit.

Posted by Mawachpo

10:18 AM, Aug 07, 2008

Note to reporters covering the Olympics: don't use the words "democracy," "brainwash" or "torture" in your emails, or you could get caught up in China's Internet Web of Censorship.

University of New Mexico Assistant Professor Jed Campbell and his colleagues from UC Davis have been in a years-long study of the words China blocks on the web (see article, below).

To book interviews with Professor Campbell, call Mike Collins Public Relations at 202-494-6105 or email us at To read more on this topic, visit the UNM website at Thanks!

Banned Words Make For Fun Research

Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal
By Martin Salazar
Journal Staff Writer

One might expect search terms like “democracy movement,” “Tiananmen incident” and even “Playboy magazine” to be blackballed by the People’s Republic of China.

But Polynices — the Greek mythology figure who ticked off his father Oedipus so much that he was cursed to die by his brother’s hand? Yep. The ill-fated lad has somehow managed to land himself on China’s forbidden list of Internet searches.

“Polynices is, I guess, associated with anarchy in some way,” said Jed Crandall, a University of New Mexico assistant professor who is working with researchers from the University of California-Davis to unravel the ins and outs of Chinese Internet censorship. The researchers bounce potentially controversial words off Chinese Internet search engines and publish lists of the ones that apparently have been blocked.

Davis, who teaches computer science classes at UNM, began working on the project about 18 months ago while he was a graduate student at UC-Davis.

So far, the project has been a labor of love for the scientists, who have yet to get funding for the research. Crandall said two proposals have been submitted to the National Science Foundation, and they’re waiting for responses.

The Chinese use what Crandall calls a sophisticated system for censoring Internet content. Rather than blocking specific Web addresses, the system detects banned words in data moving through a network and it sends reset commands that break the connection.

The censorship could impact news coverage of the Olympic games in China, Crandall said. He noted that reporters in China could have a difficult time finding out about protests, hunger strikes or similar events because of the Internet filtering.

While China’s keyword filters are sophisticated, Crandall said, they don’t always work. Among his group’s findings is that a little more than a quarter of the paths tested into China didn’t have a filtering router, meaning the researchers were able to find the banned words. He said the filter also has a tough time preventing the searcher from accessing banned material during busy periods.

Beyond making certain content inaccessible, the goal of the censorship may also be to stop protests and perhaps even to create trade barriers for U.S. companies, Crandall said.

“There are all kinds of different reasons for censorship,” he said. “We want to understand the technical issues of censorship, how it’s implemented and then also how it’s applied so that we can make effective policy in this country.”

It takes the researchers at least a month to test the Chinese filters and figure out what is being blocked. Crandall said his research group eventually would like to be able to track banned words on a daily basis.
He said the censored list changes from time to time and that the banned words and phrases vary somewhat from one Internet service provider to another and from one region to another.

These are some of the Internet phrases banned in China:

Eighty-nine: the year of the Tiananmen Square protest
Anti-corruption forum
Sky burial: a ritual practiced by Tibetans
Mein Kampf: A book by Adolf Hitler
Hitler: recently removed from list
Democracy movement
Playboy magazine
Brutal torture
Source: ConceptDoppler. org

Posted by Ashamed to be an American

1:40 PM, Aug 08, 2008

So just because these 2 are "formal" athletes than they have a right to enter China? If the US is going to file a complaint because their visa was revoke does that mean China gets to file complaints to US for every time the US rejects a visa from a Chinese?

Another double standard set by the US....

Posted by FLMom

9:25 AM, Aug 11, 2008

The US Olympic Committee needs to speak out on behalf of Joey Cheek and condemn the Chinese government's revocation of his visa for the Beijing Olympics:
Go Team Darfar!

Posted by Kourtney

8:45 AM, Aug 12, 2008

Joey Cheek has become quite the ambassador for civil liberties. You should check out the video he made for a project I’m working on I Vote You Vote. You can see the video here: Make sure to visit to register yourself and your friends to vote!

Posted by Squeak

5:15 PM, Aug 12, 2008

Sooooo.ANOTHER double standard by the U.S.. What is the other one? I wasn't aware that the host country of the olympics could pick and choose who may or maynot enter their country to attend the games.

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