WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., July 30, 2012 — To participate in the Olympics, an athlete must be a citizen of the country he or she represents, and that country must have a national Olympic organizing committee.
This year, four athletes who qualified to participate in the Olympic games are from countries without a national organizing committee, making them technically ineligible to compete.
However, in a brilliant display of fairness, the International Olympic Committee will allow them to participate under the Olympic flag. Technically, they are competing as international athletes, representing the Olympics, rather than their own countries.
Three of the athletes, Churandy Martina (track and field), Philip Elhage (shooting) and Rodin Dauelaar (swimming) are from the Netherlands Antilles. The country was an independent territory of the Netherlands until 2010 and had an organizing committee. It is now a special municipality of the Netherlands and does not have its own organizing committee.
Martina, a sprinter, originally took second place in the 200 meter at the Beijing Olympics behind winner Usain Bolt. However, after reviewing the film, officials disqualified Martina for a lane violation. He won the 200-meter in the European championships on July 4 and is poised to take a medal in London.
The fourth athlete participating under the Olympic flag is Guor Marial, born in a part of the Sudan that is now South Sudan. He was forced to become a refugee and now is a resident of the United States.
Marial is a citizen of South Sudan, founded only a year ago after seceding from Sudan. That country does not have an organizing committee, so he cannot compete for South Sudan. He has lived in the United States since 2001 and attends Iowa State, but is not a U.S. citizen so he cannot compete as an American.
Marial could compete for Sudan, but animosity between Sudan and South Sudan makes that emotionally impossible for Marial. He recently stated that running for Sudan would betray the two million people, including 28 members of his family, who died in the fight for independence from Sudan, which systematically discriminated against the South.
When Marial was eight years old, unknown individuals from Sudan kidnapped him and took him to a labor camp. The practice of stealing children for forced labor was common during the bloody civil war. Marial escaped with a friend, and relatives helped smuggle him to Egypt.
He received refugee status from the United States when he was 16 and moved to Arizona. Refugees are granted the right to live and work in the United States indefinitely because they cannot return to their home country due to persecution.
Marial has not seen his parents in almost twenty years. He spoke to his father five years ago and spoke to his mother three years ago. The village where they live has no electricity, no running water and no telephones. Marial told a reporter recently that he hopes they will be able to see him run the marathon on August 12.
The Olympics made the right call by letting these four athletes participate despite the fact that their countries lack organizing committees. It displayed the true spirit of the games by including well-deserving athletes and letting them carry the Olympic flag of inclusion and fairness.