By Madalina Hubert
|May 19, 2008|
TORONTO—For athletes, governments, and individuals, the time is now to speak up on rights abuses in China, says two-time Olympic figure skating silver medalist Elvis Stojko.
"With the Olympic Games coming up, there's a chance to show China, 'You have to move forward. It's not the Dark Ages anymore,'" Stojko told a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Saturday.
"We don't want to sit back and two years from now say, 'We should have done something; we could have done something,'" said Stojko.
Stojko was attending the Toronto leg of the Human Rights Torch Relay, an event that has passed through 120 cities and 37 countries highlighting human rights abuses in China.
He condemned the Communist regime's persecution of Falun Gong, Tibetans, and human rights defenders in China.
More than a dozen speakers addressed the crowd of roughly 200, touching on issues from the plight of Uighurs and democracy activists in China to Communist China's support of rogue regimes in Burma and Sudan.
Local musicians performed for the crowd. One artist, Drew Parker from Barrie, Ontario, is donating the proceeds from his new single to human rights efforts in China. The motto for the event was "the Olympics and crimes against humanity cannot co-exist."
"[The Olympics is about] peace and freedom, it's bringing harmony and everyone together," said Stojko. "The country that's hosting it should represent that."
Like other speakers, Stojko stressed his criticism was not aimed at the Chinese people.
"I want to let the people of China know that we're here to support them. It's the regime that has caused the heartache," said Stojko.
A minute of silence was observed for the victims of this week's earthquake in China, which reports say may have claimed more than 50,000 lives.
Stojko is a seven-time Canadian men's figure skating champion, three-time world champion, and two-time Olympic silver medalist. He has practised kung fu since 1989 and says he appreciates Chinese culture.
Stojko called on governments and individuals speak up for human rights while attention is focused on China in the lead-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
"You can't sit on the fence with it and sort of watch it go by," he said.
Governing bodies in some European countries have ordered athletes not to speak up about human rights in China, a practice Stojko opposes.
"It is our business, regardless of what anyone says. And [we should] stop worrying about what other people think and stand up and make a stand."
Does that mean he'd boycott the Games were he competing?
"It's obviously easy for me to say I would boycott because I'm not an active athlete. But I believe the athletes have a choice to make for themselves. Because they're representing all of us," Stojko said.
"They're representing their country, the ideals and the morals and beliefs of the Olympic flame. So I think they have a choice in standing up and they should be allowed to have that choice to stand up."