The Stupid Question: Who Are The Independent Olympic Athletes?
Watching the London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, some puzzled viewers would’ve been rightly relieved about seeing the Parade Of Nations. Phew, the world’s finest sportsmen and women arranged in alphabetical order rather than this Danny Boyle silliness. Reassuring. That is, until, they saw these three jokers whooping it up in between Iceland and India. They (and another member not at the opening) are the Independent Olympic Athletes. Of course they have a Facebook page.
Liemarvin Bonevacia, Philipine van Aanholt, and Reginald de Windt were led by the only non-competing flagbearer, London Olympic Volunteer Brooklyn Kerlin, they have no national flag, not much of a nation, and they were having a hell of a time.
So how do you get into the Olympics without a country? You qualify when your country was a country. Or, more precisely, when it had a National Olympic Committee.
The three IOAs at the Opening Ceremony were from Curaçao. Curaçao is one of five islands in the Caribbean off the north coast of Venezuela that previously made up the Netherlands Antilles. In 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved, meaning that the islands are no longer an autonomous Caribbean country. Three islands became Special Municipalities of the Netherlands and two – Curaçao and Sint Maarten – became countries within the Dutch Kingdom.
The Netherlands Antilles Olympic Committee had planned to continue but the IOC withdrew their membership in June last year. Hence, the athletes had qualified but had no representation anymore, according to Jacques Rogge (maybe it’s a bit of Belgian-Dutch rivalry).
A fourth athlete, marathon runner Guon Marial, was meant to be joining them. Marial is from South Sudan, but qualified before the country could get an official National Olympic Committee. Give ‘em a break, they only became an autonomous nation in June last year, four months before the Dinka tribesman qualified for the marathon.
He could’ve been part of the Sudanese team, he qualified when the countries were one, but said “If I ran for Sudan, I would be betraying my people. I would be dishonoring the two million people who died for our freedom.” He was forced into a labor camp during the civil war at the age of eight, and eight of his siblings were killed during that time. His parents are still alive, but he hasn’t seen them in twenty years. The IOC announced that they would allow him to compete as an IOA this July. Can you imagine the kind of ecstatic dancing he would’ve added to the party!
It’s still up for debate whether Marial will actually get there to compete. He didn’t get his visa in time and remains in Arizona. But he hopes to get there before the marathon, which takes place on the final day, August 12. We’re crossing our fingers for him to don the Olympic-ringed white tracksuit of the IOA.
If any of them actually score a medal in their event, the Olympic theme will play (rather than, say, ‘Me, Myself And I’). But what is the likelihood? Marial doesn’t seem to rate in the betting. Reginald de Windt is competing in the under-81kgs men’s judo and is ranked… 210th in the world (PDF). Not great. Philipine van Aanholt is a sailor, and she’s ranked number 46 in the world. Also not great. Liemarvin Bonevacia is running in the 400m. He doesn’t factor in betting, nor did he even go to the 2012 World Indoor Championships. Really not great.
It has happened, though. In 1992, 58 Yugoslavian and Macedonian athletes competed as IOAs (due to UN sanctions and the lack of a National Olympic Committee respectively) and three Yugoslavian shooters won a silver and two bronzes. At the 2000 Olympics four East Timorese athletes competed as IOAs due to independence transition. They won zip.
Good luck, Indie Olympians. Looks like you’ll need it.
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