China revokes visa for Olympic gold medallist

August 6th, 2008 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 6 (DPA) Joey Cheek, an Olympic gold medallist in speedskating and co-founder of the group Team Darfur, said he had his visa for the Beijing Olympic Games revoked, news reports said Wednesday. The Chinese embassy in the US did not give a reason for the revocation when it called him Tuesday to tell him it had withdrawn his visa the day before he planned to fly to the Chinese capital, Cheek said.

The athlete, who won the 500-metre speedskating gold in 2006 and is a former world sprint champion, founded Team Darfur, a group of athletes, including 72 current Olympians, to draw attention to China’s support of Sudan and human rights abuses in the Darfur region. China is a major buyer of Sudanese oil.

Cheek told The Washington Post that Team Darfur’s co-founder, former university water polo player Brad Greiner, also had his visa revoked Tuesday.

The move was likely to draw criticism of China, which had promised to allow freedom of expression when it bid on the Olympic Games.

“I was going there to support athletes and be part of the Olympics,” Cheek, who has not called for a boycott of the Beijing Games, said in a statement.

“I am saddened not to be able to attend the Games,” he added. “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 said.

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