On Wednesday the founder and CEO of GOAL, John O'Shea, congratulated Stephen Spielberg on his decision to pull out of his role as Artistic Advisor to the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. He also called on the Irish Government to threaten to withdraw the Irish team from the event. RTÉ.ie put some questions to him on these issues and the ongoing crisis in Darfur.


RTÉ.ie: Why have you asked the Irish Government to withdraw the team from the Olympic Games in China?

John O'Shea: We are asking the Irish Government to threaten to withdraw the team from the Olympic Games unless China is prepared to change its attitude towards the deployment of an International Peacekeeping force in Darfur. We believe that if a sufficient number of countries threaten this sort of action China may relent.


RTÉ.ie: Is there any realistic chance that the Government will decide to withdraw the Irish team or even threaten to?  

There is only a realistic chance that the Government will take this action if they feel that other governments will do likewise.


RTÉ.ie: Is affecting a sporting event like the Olympics the right way to tackle a political issue?

GOAL does not want to see any Irish athlete suffer by not being able to represent his or her country in the Olympics. But the fact of the matter remains that nothing is more important at this time for China than the success of the Beijing Olympics.

It is probably the most important card the international community has to play in the context of forcing China to allow the deployment of an International Peacekeeping force.

Participation in the Olympic Games is important, but not as important as the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Darfur.

From time to time in history sports men and sports women have to make important choices. This could be one such time.


RTÉ.ie: How significant is Steven Spielberg's decision to pull out as artistic advisor of the games?

What Steven Spielberg's decision has done is, it has focused international opinion on the suitability of Beijing to stage the games – given China's record on human rights. That in itself is a very important development.


RTÉ.ie: What is the current situation in Darfur?

There is no noticeable improvement in the lives of the people of Darfur. As late as yesterday Sudanese bombers attacked villages while the Janjaweed continues to be active. 


RTÉ.ie: Why is China standing in the way of a troop deployment?

China is a major trading partner of the Khartoum government in the Sudan. The Sudanese Government does not want to see any International peacekeepers in Darfur as it has an ethic cleansing policy in force. It recognises that an international peacekeeping force could interfere with that policy. It realises that the tiny African Union Force is not a match for either the Sudanese Airforce or the Janjaweed.

It has called in a favour from the Chinese and since oil and arms are on the table the Chinese is delighted to undertake this favour.


RTÉ.ie: How would withdrawing teams from the Olympics make China move on Darfur?

To repeat, if anything was to threaten the success of the Beijing Games, the Chinese government would be acutely disappointed.

They see the Beijing Games as the single greatest opportunity for decades to impress upon the International community that China is entitled to be rated alongside the United States as a World leader.

They are so obsessed with the staging of the games that it is possible that they would be prepared to allow in the International force – rather then see the games weakened by defections.


RTÉ.ie: What type of work is GOAL doing in the region at the moment?

GOAL is doing primarily medical work in one specific region of Darfur. We cater for the needs of about a quarter of million inhabitants.

Up until about a year ago we worked in another district but following the death of one of our employees we decided, for security reasons, to base all our staff in one specific area.

We have been working in Darfur since the latest tragedy occurred in 2003, but our involvement in this part of Sudan goes back to the mid 80s.


RTÉ.ie: The situation in Darfur has been going on for some time now, why has the international community been so slow to act?

Simply because the International community does not want to offend China. Not alone is the International community aware of the military strength of the Chinese but more importantly they recognise China has now a burgeoning economy and the West, including Ireland, and want to benefit from this development.


RTÉ.ie: You recently pulled workers out of Kenya very suddenly after violence broke out there, why did you make this decision? And what are your thoughts on the crisis?

We moved workers out of Nairobi for a short period of time for the following reasons: Our International Staff were based primarily in the slums and the violence in Nairobi was taking place in the slums. We were concerned for the security of our GOALies (GOAL's international staff), many of whom have families with them in Nairobi. Had we left them in the city we felt there would have been an urge on their part to go back into the slums and help people caught up in the violence, hence putting themselves at risk.

Our international staff are now back working alongside local staff in the slums.

We cannot be certain what the future holds for the people of Kenya, but the coming weeks should tell us whether or not there is a likelihood of meaningful peace breaking out between the rival tribes.