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Growing Number of Olympic Athletes Mix Sport With Advocacy


The concept of the Olympics as purely about sport is changing. A growing number of athletes are getting involved with advocacy and using the Olympic's world stage to get their message across. Mandy Clark reports from Beijing.

Anna Rice is North America's top female badminton player. She won't compromise on or off the court. She's part of a growing number of athletes who advocate.

Rice, a Canadian, works with the group Right to Play. It helps children affected by war, poverty and disease. "It's something I enjoy doing, and I'm passionate about these issues," Rice said. "For me it's important to be true to myself and my own beliefs."

But combining sports and politics can make life difficult as former-Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek discovered.

He founded Team Darfur, an international group of athletes raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's western region. He planned on coming to the Olympics to discuss the issue. But China revoked his visa at the last minute.

"The Olympic games is more than a sporting competition. It's a force for coming together, for improving human rights, conflict resolution and a forum of peace," Cheek said. "I think athletes should be able to speak freely about any issue that they want, be it faith, politics, whatever and obviously that's a right that has been trampled harder in the last few weeks then at any other point."

Forty years ago, though, American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos -- both African American -- gave a black power salute on the podium after winning medals at the Mexico Games. They were vilified in the United States and expelled from the games.

Today, some athletes, reacting to restrictions on speech, are turning to the Internet to get their message across. Rosanna Tomiuk plays for Canada's women's water polo team. She is also a member of Team Darfur.

"If the Olympic slogan is One World, One Dream we need not let any country, any region, any person fall through the cracks," Tomiuk said.

Canoeing duo Brian and Dennis Stever also posted their views about Darfur on YouTube.

Anna Rice received a fellowship from Right to Play to go to Africa and work in the field. She says she couldn't be happier, and she can't decide if she prefers being known as an athlete or an advocate.

"How about Athlvocate," she asked.

It's a mouthful but it might be the title more athletes want to embrace.

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