JUBA - Agence France-Presse
Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) members march to mark the anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. REUTERS photo
Leaders of the world’s youngest nation South Sudan have branded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as “conservative and insensitive” as hopes are fading fast of participating in the London Games.
Sports Minister Cireno Hiteng Ofuho said that athletes from the new nation, that separated from Sudan last year after decades of civil war, were told by the IOC they could only compete under the Sudanese flag in the Games starting next week.
“The feeling here is that the IOC is very conservative and insensitive to the people of South Sudan, and you can quote me on that,” Ofuho told AFP. “What is the reason for us becoming independent if they treat us like that?”
Ofuho said that appeals from South Sudan President Salva Kiir to include their Olympic hopefuls have so far fallen on deaf ears.Negative response
“Our President even wrote to the President of the IOC, Mr Jacques Rogge, pleading for their understanding and to let our athletes compete,” he said.
But the response to the June 28 letter came back negative, Ofuho said.
“He wrote back and said: ‘Sorry, because of the rigid processes in the IOC, a country needs two years to register’.”
Ofuho admits that the wheels should have been set in motion for registering with the IOC in January 2011, when the South held a referendum in which 98 percent of the population voted for secession.
But in a vast nation ravaged by five decades of war that killed some two million people and scattered the rest in the bush or abroad, setting up basic institutions and passing key legislation such as a constitution took priority.
Ofuho is most upset that star marathon runner Guor Marial, a 28-year-old South Sudanese who escaped death -- unlike most of his siblings -- and a brief encounter with slavery to seek refuge in the United States, looks set to miss the event.
He cannot compete for the U.S. unless he has full citizenship, and is stuck in limbo to be recognized as South Sudanese.