The world’s newest nation could soon make a name for itself in sports. South Sudan would be allowed to send a team to next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janiero if the war-torn country gains recognition by the International Olympic Committee this month, according to the Associated Press.
South Sudan’s bid for Olympic recognition will be considered at the IOC executive board meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 28. If formally approved, South Sudan would become the 206th country to gain Olympic status, which some say could help boost national pride in a fractured country plagued by civil war and a humanitarian crisis, according to the Associated Press.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed since fighting broke out in December 2013 between forces loyal to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with former Vice President Riek Machar. More than 1.6 million people have been internally displaced and hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. Both the government and rebel forces have carried out brutal attacks and sexual violence against civilians, particularly women and children, and millions of South Sudanese face starvation, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Most of the government’s money is used to fund the war against Machar’s forces, which has shattered the economy. And yet South Sudan, which split from Sudan and became independent in 2011, formed a national Olympic committee last month and has affiliations with seven international sporting federations: athletics, basketball, handball, judo, soccer, table tennis and taekwondo.
If South Sudan is approved for Olympic status, the young country would likely send a small team of just distance runners to the 2016 games in Rio. South Sudan would face hurdles in organizing and funding sports at home during a raging civil war. But taking part in the Olympics could help bridge the warring sides of the northeastern African nation, the AP reported.
"Nothing is more special for me [than] to be able to go and run under a South Sudan flag," Guor Mading Maker told the AP from Kenya, where he trains with seven other South Sudanese distance runners.