News / Africa

South Sudan Marathoner Competes Under Olympic Flag

Marathon runner Guor Marial arrives at Heathrow Airport for the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 3, 2012.
Marathon runner Guor Marial arrives at Heathrow Airport for the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 3, 2012.
Anita Powell
LONDON — South Sudan was not able to get Olympic recognition in time to field a team at the London Games.  But the world’s newest nation has great hopes, and several impressive athletes competing under other flags.  The nation’s sports minister says the world should watch out come 2016.

When the International Olympic Committee suggested that marathoner Guor Marial run for Sudan in this year's games, he refused.

The runner, a citizen of the new nation of South Sudan, said he could not in good conscience run for a country whose forces killed 28 of his family members and kidnapped him twice during the decades-long civil war between the two nations.

He left Sudan at the age of 15 and went to the United States as a refugee.  But he cannot compete for the United States because he is not a citizen.  Instead, he chose to compete under the Olympic flag at this year’s games.

South Sudan became the world’s newest nation a year ago.

Olympic delay

Sports Minister Cirino Hiteng Ofuho says South Sudan was very quickly welcomed into the United Nations, the African Union, world soccer organization FIFA and the African football body.

But, he says, the International Olympic Committee said, "No."  Their process takes two years.  Ofuho says officials thought the IOC might waive some of its rules, but they did not.

“It is very disappointing, but we do understand that the IOC... has its own regulations, its own rules, even though we believed from the beginning that the IOC would be flexible like FIFA or the Confederation of African Football, that admitted South Sudan immediately without a lot of hindrance," said  Ofuho.

But, he adds South Sudan will still make its mark.  He praised Marial for his choice to participate as an independent.

"That is a very patriotic, very patriotic decision," he said. "They consulted me, and I told him, 'Guor Marial, you are a South Sudanese citizen, you are not an American yet, you are in the diaspora, you are a citizen of this country,' so therefore the IOC made a mistake to suggest to him to run under the flag of Sudan.  That I think was very insensitive."

Athletes present US, British teams

Although the nation does not have a team, South Sudanese athletes are taking star roles on the American and British teams.

Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng leads Britain’s basketball team.  And the U.S. team chose runner Lopez Lomong to be its flagbearer.  Lomong is one of Sudan’s famous Lost Boys, a group of 20,000 children displaced during the last civil war.

Ofuho says there is more to come in 2016.  He says his ministry is busy revamping athletic facilities in preparation.

"We have great potential in athletics," he said.  "We have great potential in football, or soccer, as they say.  We do have greater potential in basketball.  We have great potential in women's games like handball, volleyball, and other games like taekwondo.  Even we have games like wrestling and javelin, all of these games we are going to participate in."

No lack of support

Even without a team, South Sudanese athletes do not lack for support.

London resident Helen Mulla moved to Britain 30 years ago.  This year, she is watching the games with extra pride, and rooting for Marial.

“Good luck to him on Sunday, and I hope he wins, so that we can be in the next Olympics just because of him," said Mulla. "I am so proud that we do have one person.  It does not matter what part of South Sudan he is [from], but as long as he says he wants to run under the Olympic flag, not the Sudan flag, because he is from the Republic of South Sudan, and I am proud to say that I have one person representing the Republic of South Sudan running under the Olympic flag."

And, Ofuho says, the whole nation feels the same.

You May Like

Sunni-Shi’ite Divide Threatens Middle East Stability

Analysts say ancient dispute that traces back to Islamic Revolution is fueling modern day unrest More

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

As Missouri suburb morphed from majority white to majority black, observers say power structure remained static More

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Restriction is toughest since Soviet era, though critics reject move as patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Native Bees May Help Save Cropsi
X
Deborah Block
August 22, 2014 12:23 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video Native Bees May Help Save Crops

U.S. President Barack Obama has called for a federal strategy to promote the health of bees that have been declining. The honeybee has been waning due to parasites, disease and pesticides. Wild bees may be used to take over their role as crop pollinators. Scientists first need to learn a lot more about wild bees, says biologist Sam Droege, who is pioneering the first national inventory on native bees. VOA’s Deborah Block went to his research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, to bring you more.
Video

Video US Defense Officials Plan for Long-Term Strategy to Contain Islamic State

U.S. defense officials say American air strikes in Iraq have helped deter Islamic State militants for the time being, but that a broad international effort is needed to defeat the extremists permanently. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Thursday that the group formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is better organized, and financially and militarily stronger than any other known terrorist group. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads in Southeast Asia

On Thailand’s border with Myanmar, also known as Burma, a malaria research and treatment clinic is stepping up efforts to eliminate a drug-resistant form of the parasite - before it spreads abroad. Steve Sandford reports from Mae Sot, Thailand.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid