Featured, Olympics

Refugee With No Country Running Under Olympic Flag in London

You probably haven’t heard of Guor Marial before, but that is all about to change. Marial, a South-Sudanese refugee, qualified for the Olympics last October at the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon. He escaped the Sudanese Civil War in 2001, moving to Concord, New Hampshire, with his uncle and cousin. From there he went on to run at Concord High School and earned a cross-country and track scholarship to Iowa State University. After graduating in May of 2011, he moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he began to train full time.

Marial met the Olympic “A” standard after he ran a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 32 seconds. It’s obvious he has the talent to run in the Olympics, but there was one gaping problem… He had no country to run for. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires that athletes be full citizens of the countries they represent, and although Marial has lived in the United States for the past 11 years, he has yet to gain his full citizenship.

Marial explained his situation in an interview with Runner’s World:

“Technically, I was supposed to be a citizen last June, because I did everything, I did my citizen test, I did my interview, I did my fingerprints, and everything was all set. All I needed to do was to go to their office and get my passport and do the ceremony. That was in June 2011, but there has been a security background check…and that’s what took everything longer.”

Born in what is now the Republic of South Sudan, Marial would not be able to compete in the Olympic games due to Sudan’s lack of a National Olympic Committee, which is required in order to have athletes compete for their country. Marial has been petitioning to run as an independent participant under the Olympic flag:

“It would be great for the people of South Sudan for me to run as an independent. And the U.S. because that’s where I discovered running. It would be great for the whole world.”

His petition was sent to IOC President Jacques Rogge, who took Marial’s case into account:

A change.org petition titled “Allot South Sudanese runner Guor Marial to compete in the Olympics Marathon” was set up and received nearly 3,500 signatures. And in a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge requesting that Marial be allowed to compete in the London Games as an independent participant, Refugee International President Michel Gabaudan wrote, “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 “preserve 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.”

After anxiously awaiting a decision, Marial’s petition has been accepted and the IOC will allow him to run as an independent under the Olympic flag.  

Marial was elated with the decision and expressed his feelings to The Associated Press:

“The voice of South Sudan has been heard. The South Sudan has finally got a spot in the world community. Even though I will not carry their flag in this Olympic Games, the country itself is there.”

“The dream has come true. The hope of South Sudan is alive.”

This is an incredible story and one I’m sure we will hear much more of once the London games begin.

[Yahoo! Sports]