Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Freedom Runner: Salah Hmtou Amaidane

26-year old Amaidane began his athletic career in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara at age 12, when he was recruited to Morocco’s junior running team. Early in his career he displayed an exceptional ability to run and win over a wide range of distances from 1500m to 10km. By 1999 he was the triple champion for Morocco for cross-country racing and the second champion of Africa (5000m). Despite his remarkable record, it did not protect Amaidane when he joined peaceful protests against the Moroccan occupation. His family home was repeatedly raided. He was blindfolded, taken to prison, interrogated, threatened and humiliated.

Amaidane got political asylum in 2003 after he led an 8-km race in France and waved the Saharawi flag for the last remaining 200m. Alongside other exiled Saharawis, Amaidane has joined an UN-sponsored programme to reunite Saharawi families separated by the occupation and the 2,500km long land-mined Berm dividing the Western Sahara.

In a letter addressed to the British people, Amaidane expresses his support for the Saharamarathon as a means to draw attention to the situation of his people (for the full letter, click here). Having personally suffered the consequences of speaking up for his people, Salah campaigns for not only the resolution of the Western Sahara issue, but also for the international recognition of Sahrawi sportsmenship:
"I believe sports is an important way to represent your country and its values. Having a team of top Saharawi althletes is the dream of many of our youth. Unfortunately, humanitarian aid is rarely adapted to meet the requirements of high level sports  and the youth in the camps lack all kinds of facilities and training equipment to achieve this dream.

Fulfilling  the athletic aspirations of young Saharawis living in occupied Western Sahara is not any easier either. The only way a Saharawi can find a place in top competing teams is if he or she expresses their allegiance to the King and the Moroccan occupier. But doing this comes at a high price. It means enduring all kinds of humiliations and disrespectful treatment. Otherwise, Saharawis have no chance to participate in any competition of any meaningful level". (Excerpt from Amaidane's letter)
Saharawi athletes are not permitted to take part in international competitions and, thus, the Olympic Games as his country, the Western Sahara, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (as well as by Egypt, Madagascar, Iran, etc.). Amaidane calls on the IOC to recognise the SADR and fulfil his dream of competing in the Olympic Games. In an interview with the journalist Stefan Simanowitz, Salah said: "I have two dreams. The first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London, then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free".

This Friday (Oct 16th), Salah will run 35 34 laps around the Parliament square for each year that the ICJ verdict on the Saharawi right to self-determination has been ignored by Morocco and the international community. Want to join him? Get in touch.

On Sunday (Oct 18th), Salah will run the Wimbledon Audi 10k race and hopes to be able to meet iwth Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

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