19 July 2012

In Which The IOC Doesn't Get Conflict

Distance runner Guor Marial is trying to run in the Olympics. The Sudanese refugee was born in Southern Sudan and lost 28 members of his family during the nation's civil war.

South Sudan is now a free and independent state, but lacks a National Olympic Committee. This means that Marial cannot run in the Olympics for his new country. Not deterred, he made an appeal to the International Olympic Committee for permission to run as an independent.

The IOC responded by suggesting that he run for Sudan. They very country that his family and neighbors fought for independence. AlertNet discussed the matter with Marial.
“I lost my family and relatives, and in South Sudan 2 million people died,” he said by phone from Flagstaff, Arizona, where he lives.

“For me to just go and represent Sudan is a betrayal of my country first of all, and is disrespecting my people who died for freedom.”
Marial left Sudan at the age of 14 following an attack when Sudanese soldiers entered his home at night. He was left unconscious after a soldier smashed his jaw with a rifle.

The athlete, who arrived in the United States when he was 16, said he appreciated Sudan’s offer but it was impossible to accept.

“In my situation, the consequences of me representing Sudan are bigger than me going to the Olympics,” he said in the interview late Tuesday.

“At this level, as an athlete, I don’t just represent my family, but the whole of South Sudan. It’s a very heavy responsibility to carry. It’s very important for me to make the right decision,” he added.

“My dream is to represent South Sudan. It’s just a matter of time.”
South Sudan tried to lobby on behalf of Marial to no avail. From the Chicago Tribune:
According to Ciring Hiteng Ofuno, South Sudan’s minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, the country’s president, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit wrote IOC president Jacques Rogge on behalf of Marial. 
In an email, Ofuno called the communications with the IOC “fruitless.” 
"It is unfortunate that an independent country is unable to be granted even the symbolic right to participate as a member of the world family of nations," Ofuno wrote. "It is a pity that institutions established by human beings can be so rigid to that extent." 
Ofuno also acknowledged that the ministry’s staff must "redouble their efforts" in the process of joining international bodies like the IOC so the country does not miss such events in the future.
Refugees International is unhappy with the suggestion made by the IOC and wrote a strongly worded open-letter to President Jocques Rogge condemning the suggestion and requesting that Marial have the opportunity to compete.
Count Jacques Rogge

President, International Olympic Committee
Dear Sir:
I write today regarding Guor Marial, a talented runner and a refugee from Sudan. In his first-ever marathon last year, Mr. Marial qualified for the Olympic Games with an ‘A standard’ performance, and wishes to participate in the 2012 Games in London.
Though Mr. Marial’s talent and accomplishments are sufficient to gain an Olympic berth, an unfortunate confluence of factors has so far kept him out of the competition. Born in Unity State, in what is now South Sudan, Mr. Marial may have claim to South Sudanese nationality but has not yet chosen to exercise that claim. Even if he received nationality in time for the 2012 Games, Mr. Marial could not compete for South Sudan because that country has not yet established a National Olympic Committee. He is also unable to race for the United States of America, his country of permanent residency, because the IOC requires that athletes be full citizens of the countries they represent.
The IOC has proposed that Mr. Marial run as part of the Sudanese Olympic team, which has offered to accept him as a member. However, based on his personal experiences and our expert knowledge, we believe such an arrangement would be inappropriate. Numerous members of Mr. Marial’s family have been killed by Sudanese security forces, and he himself has suffered serious physical abuse at the hands of Sudanese police. The threats against him are serious and were recognized as such when he gained refugee status in the United States. Therefore, asking Mr. Marial to submit once again to Sudanese authority as an Olympic athlete is not acceptable. Moreover, Mr. Marial was one of 500,000 individuals effectively stripped of Sudanese citizenship under a discriminatory amendment to Sudan's Nationality Law in August 2011. Allowing Sudan to carve out a special exception for Mr. Marial is inappropriate when hundreds of thousands like him have had their nationalities revoked en masse with no possibility of appeal.
As an alternative, we propose that Mr. Marial be allowed to compete in the 2012 Games as an Independent Participant. This status, which allows athletes to compete under the Olympic Flag, has been granted numerous times by the IOC. Indeed, a number of other athletes at this year’s games will be competing independently. At its 123rd session in July of last year, the IOC granted independent status to athletes from the Netherlands Antilles after its National Olympic Committee was dissolved, in order to “preserv[e] as much as possible the interests of the athletes.” Qualified athletes from South Sudan, including Mr. Marial, deserve equal treatment, and the IOC should act to grant him an Olympic berth without delay.
As the IOC considers this proposal, we encourage it to reflect on the Fourth Fundamental Principle of Olympism, which states that:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
There are few ways of better upholding this principle than allowing Mr. Marial to compete as an equal independent participant in the London 2012 Games.
On behalf of Refugees International, I wish you and the entire IOC a successful Olympic Games. If you require any further information, please know that my colleagues and I are at your disposal.
Michel Gabaudan