As over 200 countries converge on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics Games, there is one country that has never been there before and that country is the Republic of South Sudan. The historic appearance of South Sudan in the world’s most populous and biggest sporting event came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the new country as its 206th member nation in August 2015 in Kuala Lumpur.
Many South Sudanese around the world who were fortunate to see their country’s flag being paraded through the magnificent Maracanã Stadium during the opening ceremony, would have been filled with mixed emotions; considering how far their country has come and the resilience of their athletes.
South Sudan Team parading at 2016 RIO olympic inaugural ceremony
The Participation of South Sudan in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio gives South Sudanese citizens and its diaspora communities something to celebrate, all under one banner (the country’s flag), since December 2013 when the country went back to war against itself. One would hope that this event will provide an opportunity for South Sudanese to stop thinking of fighting and killing each other, at least for a moment and watch and enjoy this historic occasion.
Amongst the olympic games celebrants, no one is more joyous than the athletes themselves, many of whom never imagined that they would one day become part of such a historic sporting moment; both for themselves and most importantly for the young country that they are representing. It is fair to say that being an Olympian was never part of the childhood dreams for the South Sudanese Athletes present in Rio, since many of them were born during the war of independence that lasted for several decades and they knew nothing or very little about World Olympic Games.
The first ever South Sudanese athletes to the Olympic Games are inspirational individuals. They include:
- A 16-year-old 1500-meter runner Santino Kenyi who continued training in the capital Juba while his countrymen were busy fighting.
- Guor Mading Maker, who ran in the marathon under the Olympic Flag at the 2012 London Olympic Games and finished 47th. At that time South Sudan was not yet recognised by the IOC but Guor’s participation in the London games lifted South Sudan’s image on the international stage.
- A 19-year-old 200-meter runner Margret Rumat Rumar Hassan who is being sponsored by Samsung with an ad that has painted exactly how her fellow citizens, young and old, will get behind her from afar.
These athletes worked very hard in an environment with inadequate sporting equipment and facilities, as well as having very limited funding and sponsorship opportunities.
Tong Deran, the South Sudanese Olympic Committee Secretary General and his team, have also worked very hard over the years to get South Sudan registered with the IOC. They are an inspiring group of people for what they have achieved for the country and they deserve a special recognition for their efforts.
Despite all the great challenges that South Sudan is facing at the moment, the future of this young country in the Olympic Games looks promising, particularly in running, basketball, and soccer. South Sudan is no doubt a force to be reckoned with in many Sport disciplines in the future. However, this optimism will largely depend on the country’s political leadership to be able to restore peace and invest in its people.
While the most important thing in the Olympic Games is participation and the opportunity for Athletes to represent their country, regardless of the outcome of any sporting contest, the South Sudanese athletes have inspired many war affected South Sudanese from all generations, including the South Sudanese diaspora communities in different parts of the world. At this critical time for South Sudan, the spirit of sport is helping to unite the hearts of the young country’s citizens. Hopefully that unity lingers and provides hope for the future.
Kuol Mayiir & Andrew Gai