This week the International Olympic Committee said that athletes who have fled their home countries will be allowed to qualify to compete in the Olympics – under the Olympic flag.
The IOC has not had a policy to allow refugees to compete in the past, but there have been some exceptions. One was track and field athlete Guor Maker of South Sudan in 2012. He fled the Sudanese civil war when he was young and came to the U.S. In 2012, Maker ran the marathon in the London Olympics under the Olympic flag, as an independent athlete.
Here & Now’s Robin Young speaks with Maker about his experience as an independent athlete and what he thinks of the IOC decision. Maker is training to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
What was your reaction to the IOC’s decision?
“I was very happy and hopeful on the decision that IOC made, I could feel how excited those young refugees would feel across the world. I can understand because that’s how I was in 2012.”
How did you feel when you qualified in 2012 to run as an independent?
“I was watching from my home in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I was training. My name was there, I was among those three athletes who walked into the stadium. I was there in spirit and I was watching them. I wish I could have been there. I knew at the time, I was accepted three days before, and I was getting ready to get my documents to go to London. It was overwhelming, I was very thankful of all the support and the decision from the IOC. Everyone just came together and put the sport before our differences in races and gender, so it was just showing the unity of the sport and how the Olympics can change and make a difference.”
Does competing in the Olympics help you move on from tragedy of the civil war?
“Well, life loss is something you cannot move on from, it’s something you always remember. You have to do something positive to replace that, but it’s always there. So going to the Olympics was not something I considered for me, but I considered for the people of South Sudan, and the 2 million we lost in South Sudan. So, my going to the Olympics, I was not ready to go to win, I was not in shape, but I was going to raise awareness and spirit of the youth in South Sudan.”
Do you think the European refugees will look to compete in the 2016 Olympics?
“Yes I do think if they go to a safe place where they can get the opportunity to work, and these youth can get opportunity to go to school, I’m pretty sure they will have the spirit to do their sport. They might not have it for 2016, but hopefully 2020, they will establish themselves to fulfill their dreams.”
The IOC has since recognized South Sudan. Will you run under that flag in 2016?
“Of course, I will do it, and I live here now and I am a U.S. citizen and I am very grateful for that. I honor the United States and I put it in my heart as my country. As well, South Sudan I put in my heart as my country, that’s where I was born, and the people of South Sudan I love dearly. I’m going to do this for them, I’m going to raise the flag of South Sudan, and I have a hope that I will be bringing other athletes with me. I hope to go as a team. Right now we are here, about 15 of us, South Sudanese athletes I have on my list, training here in the U.S., in Australia, the U.K., Kenya, and back in South Sudan. We are all training and I am in check with them to make sure they are doing necessary training to get the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.”
Do you have any words of wisdom to other refugees?
“I hope this would be an example for all the refugees across the world to not give up hope, because there is always the next day. You might be in the darkness today, they might think this is the end of the world for them, but I can tell them that if you keep hope and if you keep it alive with the support of people around you, whichever society you are in, there is always opportunity your dream will always come true.”