Sports Diplomacy: Stateless athletes and International Olympic recognition.

In the actual international society, the relations between each country and other actors are developed with Diplomacy (or should be), Diplomacy is the art of negotiating, of dialogue, of protocol, of international politics.

Diplomacy has different types/forms of developing itself, one of the newest and least-known is the Sports Diplomacy.

In the recent years some international issues have been addressed by this Diplomacy, by the values of some sports, by the politics they involve and so on.

This is the case of the Stateless athletes. In order for an athlete to participate in the Olympic Games, there is a qualifying process, different for each sport, but one of the main conditions to participate is to represent a country, and that the country has a NOC (National Olympic Committee). These athletes are the exception to these conditions.

The first Olympic Games where Stateless athletes participated where the Barcelona ’92 Games, these athletes were of the Ex- Yugoslavia and Macedonia and participated bearing the Olympic flag, in the Sydney 2000 Games, 4 Stateless athletes from the newly formed Timor Oriental beared the Olympic flag and in the last Olympic Games in London, 4 Stateless athletes beared the Olympic flag, 3 of them from the former Netherland Antilles (NA): Liemarvin Bonevacia in the men’s 400m, Reginald de Windt in men’s judo, and Philipine van Aanholt in women’s sailing, and an athlete from South Sudan: Guor Marial.

The 3 athletes from NA qualified to the Olympics before the dissolution of the country, (in 2010), so instead of representing Netherlands they asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to bear their flag. The country dissolved into 2 new countries: Curaçao and Sint Marteen.

The case of Guor Marial is different: This athlete fleed from his country at the age of 8. The war between Sudan and South Sudan claimed two million lives, including 8 of Marial’s siblings and 25 family members in total. He went first to Kenya, then to Egypt, finally settling in Arizona. South Sudan has yet to form a national committee that’s required for countries to participate in the games. An interesting fact of his situation is that Marial received an invitation from Sudan to represent that country in the Olympics, but he denied.

“If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people. I would be dishonoring the two million people who died for our freedom. I want to bring honor to my country…”, he stated, explaining why he represented the Olympic flag, instead of Sudan’s flag.

In the specific case of Marial, the international politics took part in the situation, and Marial, bravely defended his honor and the honor of South Sudan, using (what I believe is) Sports Diplomacy.

Another similar case is the situation of Majlinda Kelmendi, a very succesful judo athlete from the recent recognized country of Kosovo. Besides having a NOC since 1992, the country wasn’t internationally recognized until August 2014, when 108 members out of 193 recognized Kosovo as an independent State, and in October of this same year the IOC granted provisional recognition to the Kosovo Olympic Committee, and was proposed that in the December session of the IOC, the NOC acquire permanent recognition.

Majlinda qualified to London Olympic Games, but couldn’t represent her country and instead she beared the Albanian flag. Majlinda asked the IOC to bear their flag, just like the Stateless athletes did, but Jacques Rogge denied, instead decided that she should represent Albania.

In the Games she lost in the first rounds of the competition, even being one of the favorites to take the Olympic title, in declarations after the Olympics she was very disappointed by not being able to represent her country and it seemed like that affected her result on the Olympics mentally and physically, or she just let go the fight. Her dream is giving the Olympic glory to Kosovo, not to other country, but luckily now she can in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Being a Stateless person is a terrible situation, the Olympics are just a case of this problem, but Stateless people have several problems. All humans have the right to a citizenship; it’s established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. If you don’t have a citizenship, no State has the obligation to give you the basic services, security, etc. The international conflicts usually begin by the ideas, economic or power expansion of a person or a small group of persons, but the negative consequences of these affect millions of innocent people.

By: Fernando Márquez



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