"When Children Play The World Wins." That's the motto of the international humanitarian organization called Right To Play. The group has attracted a lot of worldwide attention at the Turin Olympics after receiving a generous donation from a U.S. speed skater.
Norwegian Johann Olav Koss won three speed skating gold medals before his home fans at the 1992 Lillehammer Olympics. During his athletic career he won three all-around World Championships in his sport and broke 11 world records.
In 1993 after visiting the African country of Eritrea, he felt moved to help others, so he donated the bonus money he had earned for his 1,500 meter Olympic gold to start Olympic Aid. It is now known as Right To Play, and Koss is the president of the organization that uses sport and play as tools for development of children in the most disadvantaged areas of the world.
When Right To Play officials came to the Turin Olympics, they had no idea how their mission would spread. But when American speed skater Joey Cheek decided to donate his total bonus money of $40,000 for winning gold and silver medals to Right To Play, Koss said he was overwhelmed.
"It's basically all the money the guy ever earned his entire life," he joked. "Thousands and thousands of additional dollars have been given to Right To Play after he gave a challenge to corporations. And it's incredible, I will also say, how there have been millions and millions of words written about Right To Play and our cause around the world because of Joey's gesture."
Koss announced that since Joey Cheek challenged Olympic sponsors to match his donations, Right To Play has received more than $300,000 additional dollars.
"That's furthering our reach, and we have over 540,000 children in activities every single week, in Africa, in the Middle East and of course in Asia."
Koss says Right To Play wants to also influence governments to donate as well, because their goal in the next five years is to reach five million children every week.
When donors give to Right To Play, they can specify a project where they want their funds to go. Joey Cheek has earmarked his to help refugees in Chad who have fled the Darfur region of Sudan, where tens of thousands have been killed.
Johann Olav Koss says Cheek has now officially been named a Right To Play athlete ambassador.
"We will have him going to Zambia next month," said Mr. Koss. "We are very excited about that. This is a special initiative on HIV AIDS prevention, particularly for young girls and also boys, of course. And this is in lead up to the international conference on HIV in Toronto. It's a large international conference coming up in August where Joey also will be present and speak to the global leaders to see how sport can be used as a preventable measure for HIV AIDS."
Joey Cheek says after spending most of his life doing inline skating and speed skating, getting assistance from many others to rise to the top, he felt a need to give of himself.
"I feel that it is imperative for myself, but also for anyone else who is able to reach a pinnacle of either their career, or whatever they're striving for, to then reach out a hand and help somebody else up," said Mr. Cheek. "I've been very blessed in all my travels to see a lot of Europe and a lot of Asia, and I'm very excited now to be able to see some of the poorer countries.
As one final gesture of his good will before he leaves these Olympics, Joey Cheek announced that he is donating the speed skating suit he wore in victory to help raise additional funds for Right To Play. It will auctioned next week on the Internet. Those who want to bid can reach the direct location on eBay through righttoplay.com. Cheek learned on Friday that he was elected by the U.S. team to carry the American flag during the Winter Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday night.