Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Go Guor! Stateless Marathoner to Compete in Olympics

The Olympics is typically a time when even the most timid of citizens become flag-wavers for their country, counting the medals their home country racks up and paying close attention when their country faces off against historical or modern rivals. But one Olympian is drawing media attention not because of his nationality but because of a lack thereof- stateless marathoner Guor Marial.

Marial was born in South Sudan, where he was one of countless children kidnapped and forced into labor during the Sudanese Civil War. As a refugee in Egypt, and later the United States, he left behind many deceased family members and has not seen his parents in 20 years (the complete story can be found here). Marial wouldn't be the first refugee of the Sudan conflict to compete in the Olympics. However, unlike Lopez Lemong, a Sudanese refugee who was a flag-bearer in the Beijing Olympics, Marial does not possess US Citizenship, and will be competing under the Olympic Flag. Despite being offered to compete for Sudan, Marial declined, “It’s not right for me to do that.  It’s not right for me to represent the country I refuged from.”

Media reports have been presenting the case as an uplifting, if bewildering, human interest story. Time noted that if he wins, Marial will stand on the podium while the Olympic hymn (rather than a national anthem) is played. Die Welt ran their article on him with the headline "No Flag and No Hymn." These Olympic trappings are so common that their lack is as headline-making as the shocking story that put him in this situation.

Other articles refer to him simply as a refugee, portraying him as an unoffficial Sudanese representative despite his strong declarations to the contrary.

With an estimated 12 million stateless and 43 million refugees worldwide, belonging to either group is not so remarkable in and of itself. More remarkable to me is the ability of the Olympics, a bastion of nationalism, to allow for some ambiguity in their ceremonial trappings in a way that represents the true nature of a world that is composed of citizens, stateless people, and everything in between. Its obvious that rather than being a disadvantage, being stateless will only cause Mr. Marial to receive even more support when he competes on August 12th.

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