A runner without a country, Guor Marial will compete in the Olympic Marathon “under the Olympic flag.”
Rumblings have been rampant over the past few weeks regarding restrictions placed on athletes during the upcoming Olympic Games: logos need to be such and such a size, Tweets and blog posts much be constructed in such and such a way, appearing in advertisements for your sponsors is a big no-no, and the list goes on and on.
Despite all the back-and-forth bickering about athletes’ sponsorship opportunities being taken away and their rights being limited so that the International Olympic Committee’s own corporate rear end is covered, let’s not forget for just a split second that the Olympic Games are about opportunity.
On Saturday, the IOC announced that Guor Marial, a 28-year-old from the South Sudan who escaped a child labor camp in his native war-torn country and ended up in the United States as a refugee, has been cleared to compete in the Olympic Marathon on August 12. This development is significant because the South Sudan, a nation that is barely a year a old, does not have an Olympic committee. As such, in accordance with IOC rules, the country is not allowed to send athletes to the Games. But because Marial was a refugee from a country that was ravaged by civil war, the IOC held discretion to allow him to compete as an independent athlete, an option they finally exercised on Saturday after nine months of uncertainty.
Marial, who was encouraged, but refused to wear the colors of Sudan in London, will now compete “under the Olympic flag” as one of a handful of athletes at the Games without a country.
How cool is that?
It’s really cool, especially considering that the International Olympic Committee is an organization that has often — and perhaps rightfully — been criticized for being archaic, intractable and rigid. During a time when fingers are being pointed and blame is being cast in every which direction, this decision serves as an important and necessary reminder what the spirt of the Games have been about since their original iteration in ancient times: an opportunity “to build a peaceful and better world, and to inspire and motivate the young people of the world to be the best they can be, and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled time in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”
Even though Marial won’t wear the colors of the South Sudan during the Games, he told the Associated Press after Saturday’s decision that, “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.”
On August 12 in London, Marial — a 2:12:55 marathoner — will enthusiastically embody the mission of the Olympic Spirit quoted above, a fitting reminder that at the end of the day these Games are indeed about opportunity. During a time when the International Olympic Committee is getting ripped left and right for pulling the corporate card and protecting their own interests, they should also be commended for creating a handful of opportunities for the lifeblood of the Olympic Games — the athletes.
Now, that’s the Spirit.