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SHAHEEN URGES IOC TO ALLOW NEW HAMPSHIRE RUNNER AND SUDAN REFUGEE TO COMPETE IN OLYMPICS AS AN INDEPENDENT ATHLETE

July 20, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) –U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is strongly urging the International Olympic Committee to allow Guor Marial, who went to high school in Concord, New Hampshire, to run in the Olympics as an independent athlete. A refugee from Sudan's civil war, Marial is not allowed to run for South Sudan because as a new country it does not yet have a National Olympic Committee and therefore cannot send a team to London. The runner has qualified for the Olympics but has refused to compete on behalf of Sudan, where he lost 28 family members in the civil war. Marial is a 2005 graduate of Concord High School and says he considers New Hampshire to be his home state.

Senator Shaheen sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee on behalf of Marial. The text of the letter is below:

Count Jacques Rogge
President, International Olympic Committee

Château de Vidy
Case postale 356
1001 Lausanne

Switzerland

Dear President Rogge:

I write to express my strongest support for the bid of Guor Marial, a marathon runner and Sudanese refugee living in the United States, to participate in the upcoming Olympic Games in London.  Mr. Marial is a talented young man who deserves a chance to compete under honorable terms.

Mr. Marial is a permanent resident of the United States, having fled war-ravaged Sudan as a child and eventually relocating to the safety and peace of New Hampshire in 2001.  In fact, it was exactly 11 years ago today that he arrived in New Hampshire.  Mr. Marial lived in Concord, our state capital, moving in with the families of his friends, teammates and cross country coach for two years in order to graduate from high school.  In New Hampshire, we are proud of Mr. Marial and proud that, in the United States, someone with his frightening and tragic story can start a new life.

Amazingly, in only his second marathon, Mr. Marial ran fast enough in San Diego this year to qualify for the 2012 London Games.  However, given his very unique situation, barriers remain to his participation. 

As you know, according to the rules of the International Olympic Committee, permanent residents are not permitted to compete as members of the United States Olympic Team.  While I would be very pleased to see Mr. Marial run under the American flag, I respect and agree with the rules of the Committee.  At the same time, Mr. Marial’s other options are simply unacceptable.

Mr. Marial was born in a town that is now part of the fledgling country of South Sudan.  As such, he now has the option of claiming South Sudanese citizenship. However, South Sudan is only a year old and has yet to form a National Olympic Committee of its own.

It is my understanding that the International Olympic Committee has expressed support for a proposal by the Government of Sudan to allow Mr. Marial to run as a member of their Olympic Team.  However, I must reiterate that Mr. Marial is a refugee from Sudan.  Many of his family and friends were either brutally murdered at the hands of Sudanese security forces, or died of starvation or disease as a direct result of the heinous crimes committed by these forces, under the control of this same Sudanese national government.  Mr. Marial himself was also a victim of violence, kidnapped from his hometown and enslaved as a child laborer before escaping from bondage.  He was later severely beaten by the Sudanese police before finally fleeing the country for good. 

Given Mr. Marial’s story, his running under the flag of Sudan would be simply wrong.  I believe there is only one solution to the challenges facing his participation at the 2012 London games: Mr. Marial should be permitted by the International Olympic Committee to participate as an Independent Participant, competing under the great Olympic flag. 

Independent status for Olympic athletes is not a new phenomenon.  In fact, this status has been granted many times by the Committee in the past.  For instance, in a demonstration of great understanding and compassion, the Committee allowed athletes from East Timor to compete at the 2000 Sydney Games despite that country not having a National Olympic Committee of its own.  I believe Mr. Marial deserves the same treatment, and sincerely hope the International Olympic Committee will allow him to participate.  This act, as those before it, will once again demonstrate the Committee’s compassion and will remind the world what the Olympic Games are all about:  honoring athletes from all around the world in the spirit of peace.

Please accept my very best wishes to you and to all the members of the International Olympic Committee for a successful Olympic Games in London.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Shaheen                                                          

United States Senator            

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