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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 08:42 GMT
'Why I'm taking a stand on China'
Richard Vaughan
Vaughan is one of several athletes to have signed up for Team Darfur
The International Olympic Committee insists it was right to award the 2008 Games to Beijing despite concerns over China's human rights record.

But that has not stopped some sportsmen and women registering their unhappiness with the country's involvement in war-torn Sudan.

Thousands have been killed and millions more affected by the conflict in the western region of Darfur - and the finger of blame has been pointed at countries like China for not doing enough to stop the suffering.

China responded to the growing criticism on Thursday, with its foreign minister saying it was "understandable if some people do not understand the Chinese government policy on Darfur, but... that some people may have ulterior motives".

606: DEBATE

Here, British badminton player and former Olympian Richard Vaughan, a member of pressure group Team Darfur, explains why he felt it was right for him to speak out, and why he thinks GB athletes should be allowed to do so in the build-up to the Beijing Games.

WHY THE CONCERN OVER CHINA?

In my mind, China has an indifferent political record internationally, be it in Darfur, Burma, or many other nations in Africa they do business with.

This, mixed with human rights issues within China itself, and the lack of a free press, means there are always going to be issues with the decision to stage the Olympics in Beijing.

I think the IOC and the Chinese government would have expected some opposition to a certain degree.

IS IT IMPORTANT FOR SPORTSMEN AND WOMEN TO SPEAK OUT?

I believe free speech is very important for everyone.

If athletes feel strongly about a humanitarian topic, they have the right to comment on it, as does any member of the public.

ARE THE BOA RIGHT TO TRY TO CONTROL WHAT ATHLETES SAY ON CONTENTIOUS POLITICAL ISSUES?

Thousands of Sudanese children have been killed, orphaned or forced to flee by the crisis in Darfur
The crisis in Darfur has killed thousands and affected millions

I think it's the wrong way for the British Olympic Association to behave, especially when so many people are dying in Darfur.

I appreciate the BOA's position but feel they would be much better suited to explaining issues like Darfur to the athletes and then letting them decide whether to speak out or not.

When they get to Beijing, I'm sure every athlete will be focused on their event and focused on winning medals.

DO YOU EXPECT TO BE DISCIPLINED FOR SPEAKING OUT?

I have 100% confidence in the BOA that if I qualify for Beijing, then I will be selected.

The BOA, in my experience, are a very professional sporting body and I am sure they will show diplomacy should any humanitarian crisis raise its head in the build-up to Beijing.

COULD YOUR FUNDING BE CUT?

My funding does not come from the BOA, but any athlete that speaks out could be seen as causing trouble by their sport's performance director.

Ultimately, it may not be good for any athlete who speaks out, but athletes live or die on results, not on the favour of a performance director.

WHAT DOES BADMINTON ENGLAND THINK ABOUT YOUR STANCE?

I am sure they will not be happy and it will not help my funding situation, but, as a human being, you have to decide what is morally important to you.

If you decide human life is more important than money, being threatened with a loss of funding is not very effective.

WHAT DO FELLOW BADMINTON PLAYERS THINK OF YOUR VIEWS?

It's a mixed bag really. Some agree 100% with my stance, while others don't understand.

They can't appreciate the real scale of the problems in Darfur, where some 300,000 people have died in the past five years.

SHOULD THE IOC HAVE AWARDED THE OLYMPICS TO BEIJING?

Beijing Games
The 2008 Olympic Games will get under way in Beijing on 8 August

I understand why China was chosen to host the Games. It's one of the world's fastest growing economies and will be a major player in the medal table come Beijing.

I imagine when the IOC chose China to stage the Olympics, it would have hoped that the country would have altered its political stance on numerous international issues by the time the Games came around.

But I believe it has actually increased its economic trade with regimes with poor human rights record, especially in Africa.

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO SPEAK OUT?

If asked for my opinions, I will continue to express my views on Darfur.

That is unless I am asked to sign a contract that effectively gags me.

But I don't think that will happen.



SEE ALSO
China 'regrets' Spielberg action
14 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Olympic gag row leads to review
11 Feb 08 |  Olympics & Olympic sport
Athletes put politics in the spotlight
13 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
China's dilemma over Darfur
13 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Olympics stir mixed emotions in China
02 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific


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