By Joey Cheek
Special to Page 2

At the Olympic Games in Torino, I joined thousands of athletes and fans as the world came together to reaffirm our shared humanity, even as we celebrated our cultural differences. In Darfur, cultural differences are not celebrated, they are exploited. Three years into a genocide that has claimed nearly 400,000 lives and left millions more homeless and hungry, it has become tragically clear that the world is far too willing to selectively turn a blind eye to its shared humanity.

Preparing for the Olympics, I knew that if I won, I wanted to make my time in the spotlight count. I knew time in the public eye is fleeting, and I wanted to use my time to help those for whom peace and security are as alien as a gold medal. The amount of attention my $40,000 donation in prize money to a Darfur-focused charity has brought has surpassed my expectations, but far too many still know far too little about the genocide unfolding in Darfur.

Although it's true that not everyone will have the opportunity an Olympic medal presents to speak out, it's equally true that you don't need a spotlight to make your voice heard. On April 30, I stood alongside politicians, religious leaders, entertainers and fellow athletes to call for stronger U.S. and international action to protect the people of Darfur. I was joined by more than 50,000 Americans of various races and creeds all with one message: Not On Our Watch.

ESPN.com E-TICKET
Jim Caple recently traveled to Zambia with Joey Cheek as part of the Right To Play charity. Check out the story and photographs in "At Play in a Land of Death."

More than a month has gone by, and the situation remains dire for the 2.5 million people from Darfur who are unable to return to their homes. Instead, they sit in refugee camps completely reliant on food, water and medicine from international humanitarian organizations. They are unable to plant food, search for water or collect firewood; any trip outside the refugee camp will leave them prone to rape, castration and murder by the Janjaweed militia. Their own government has prevented humanitarian groups from delivering these important resources that simply allow them to live and to hope. Many of the 400,000 who have been killed in this conflict have perished from the slow, painful and undignified death of forced starvation.

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. The most important present we can give the people of Darfur today is the freedom of movement for the aid agencies working in the region. If the Sudanese government would open roads and restore access for humanitarian organizations, fewer people would die tonight from starvation and disease.

Of course, I do not expect a genocidal regime to change course overnight. That is why it is imperative the United Nations take Khartoum to task by enforcing targeted sanctions against those who disrupt peace in Darfur, as outlined in the May 5 Darfur Peace Agreement. The U.N. also must immediately authorize a Chapter 7-mandated peacekeeping force that will provide true protection to the people of Darfur so they can return home and try to restart their lives.

Early on in my athletic career, I realized that any great accomplishment is a result of the efforts and resources of many. I could not have accomplished what I did at the Olympics without an extensive support network that enabled me to stand on the starting line completely prepared. In order to end the genocide in Darfur, we must each become part of the support network necessary to make that happen. We must use all our resources -- our voices, our time, our money and our prayers -- to end this tragedy before it is too late.

Joey Cheek won a gold and silver medal in speedskating at this year's Winter Olympics. For more information on helping out in Darfur, go to www.savedarfur.org.




Joey
Cheek