Are you a “troublemaker”?

Because 9 American Team Darfur athletes were listed as such by the Chinese government in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics.  Yesterday, USA Today broke the story that:

China’s government was so concerned about the possibility of athlete demonstrations in the Beijing Olympics that it created a list of nine U.S. athletes and one assistant coach it thought might cause trouble at the Games, according to an internal U.S. Olympic Committee e-mail obtained by USA TODAY…

The list was given to USOC officials in a July 8 meeting by Shu Xiao, minister counselor for cultural affairs at the Chinese embassy in Washington, according to the e-mail.

You can read the whole e-mail here, but apparently

“The subject matter had to do with information the Chinese have received regarding the intention of certain members of the U.S. Olympic team to stage some sort of demonstration at the Games, perhaps displaying banners or wearing apparel or wrist bands bearing political slogans,” the e-mail stated. It added that Shu said “many of them” were “apparently associated with Team Darfur,” an international coalition of athletes committed to raising awareness about the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

It’s scary to know you’re on a target list, but instead of being scared, Team Darfur athletes were flattered:

“This may be the biggest compliment of my life,” Wambach, a member of Team Darfur, said in a phone interview when informed of the list. “If they’re worried about us, maybe we do have more strength as athletes and as people to speak out. This just gives me more empowerment.”

“It doesn’t surprise me but it makes me laugh,” said Mendoza, who also is president-elect of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “We’re not burning our shirts and ranting and raving. We’re just trying to help thousands of people from dying.”

Cheri Blauwett, a Paralympic gold medalist who was also on the list, told me:

“As Olympic and Paralympic athletes, we understand that we have a voice, and as members of Team Darfur, we have chosen to utilize this voice to support a global movement to bring about peace in Sudan.
Through bringing us together in action, we can provide support for negotiations and multilateral government intervention that promote the end of fighting in the Darfur region and surrounding conflict zones.
Our support of peace should not be subject to censorship, but rather, be applauded as an example of athletes acting to promote peace and international cooperation.

Unfortunately, American athletes weren’t the only ones targeted.  Athletes from 5 other countries reported to Team Darfur that Chinese government officials approached their Olympic committees asking them to “encourage” the athletes to leave Team Darfur before attending the Games.  The USOC was one of the only Olympic Committees, however, to so forcefully stand up for their athletes.

In addition, Team Darfur’s President – Joey Cheek – and two other Team Darfur members had their visas revoked right before they were supposed to attend the Games in non-competing capacities.  The world-wide pattern of the Chinese Government targeting athletes who had no plans to break IOC rules or openly protest simply because the Government was so scared their connection to the Sudanese government would come out should encourage us all to ask: what was the Chinese government so afraid of?  Some world-class athletes talking about foreign policy?  Or that their support for ongoing genocide would be revealed?