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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2008, 12:33 GMT
Athletes put politics in the spotlight
By Alex Capstick
BBC sports news reporter

Mia Farrow and Joey Cheek on Team Darfur protest
Team Darfur is the brainchild of speed skater Joey Cheek (r)
A growing number of athletes from all over the world have signed up to Team Darfur, an organisation committed to raising awareness about the crisis in the troubled region of Sudan.

It wants to put pressure on the Sudanese authorities, and also those countries, like China, that support inaction against the regime.

Team Darfur plans to highlight the issue at the Beijing Olympics.

But athletes have been warned to steer clear of protests during the Games. Article 51 of the Olympic charter clearly forbids any sort of demonstration or political propaganda at Olympic sites and venues.

Canada's former Olympic swimmer Nicky Dryden, a Team Darfur campaigner, wants athletes to make a stand during the Beijing Games.

Darfur is a humanitarian issue, not really a political one. I think gagging athletes is the wrong way to go about it
Richard Vaughan
British badminton player

She said she hoped successful athletes in the spotlight "can take the opportunity, when for the one time in their life the media will be focused on them... to talk about the things that make them proud to be Olympians".

"And I think those are the fact that the Olympics are based on the value of human rights and human dignity - and that perhaps that's not happening in China, within its own borders, and [in] its interaction with the Sudanese government," she added.

'Bullying tactics'

Team Darfur is the brainchild of the American speed skater Joey Cheek.

A sculpture and a flag with the Olympic rings are seen in front of the International Olympic Committee HQ
The IOC is accused of hypocrisy for its stance on political protests

After clinching the 500m gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Turin two years ago, he used his news conference to talk about Darfur.

He hopes successful athletes in Beijing display a similar disregard for the rules.

"I would love to have several hundred more athletes in Team Darfur by Beijing and I see no reason why we canít recruit a few hundred more," the Times newspaper quotes him as saying.

"So much of the Olympic charter is about brotherhood and achieving something greater through sport; it's pretty lofty language. It seems hypocritical for people within the Olympic movement to say 'We believe in human rights' and then take no action."

The possibility of political demonstrations has so concerned the British Olympic Association that it inserted a strongly worded clause in its contract for Beijing-bound athletes, in which they agree not to make such protests.

Athletes need to be critical of China's human rights record
Bilal Sultan, New York

Richard Vaughan, a medal contender in badminton and a member of Team Darfur, accused the BOA of using "bullying" tactics, and sees no reason why people should not talk about Darfur.

"Darfur is a humanitarian issue, not really a political one. I think gagging athletes is the wrong way to go about it," he said.

Mexico protest

British Olympic officials have agreed to soften the wording, insisting it is not a gagging order, and that it merely reflects what is already written in the Olympic charter.

A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that action will be taken against anyone who contravenes its rules. In the past it has been done on a case-by-case basis.

The best known protest was at the Mexico Games in 1968 when the black American sprinters Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists during the 200m award ceremony in support of the civil rights movement.

Mia Farrow applauds Speilberg's decision

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