Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Press release: Saharawi Athlete's Dream of London 2012

LONDON, Oct. 14, 2009. The Sahrawi runner Salah Amaidane from Western Sahara who regularly trains with Paula Radcliffe has arrived in London to highlight the plight of his country and his dream of running in the 2012 Olympics. Salah Hmatou Amaidane who has won gold medals in Africa and Europe is not eligible to compete in the Olympics due to the fact that his country, occupied unlawfully by Morocco for over three decades, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. During his UK visit, Amaidane will take part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k run on October 18th.

Western Sahara was annexed by force in 1975, eight years before 26 year-old Amaidane was born. Despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice and over 100 UN resolutions, Morocco has steadfastly blocked the native Saharawi people's right to self-determination and as a result Amaidan is unable to compete for his country.

Amaidane, who lives in exile in France, has track times which would qualify him to compete in numerous Olympic track events including the 1500m (3min32s) and the 3000m Steeplechase (8min25s). But unless his nation gains independence or is recognised by the IOC, he will be forced to watch the Games in 2012 from the grandstand.

Amaidane's athletic talents were first spotted when he was just a boy, rebelling against the oppressive Moroccan regime. “When I was ten years old I used to sneak up behind Moroccan policemen and snatch their caps off their heads. They would chase me but I was always too fast for them” he recalls fondly. “I guess I was lucky that they never drew their pistols. People said I was faster than a bullet but fortunately it was never put to the test.” He was invited to join a running club and at the age of 13 he was selected for the Moroccan youth athletics school and moved a thousand miles away to Rabat where he stayed until he was 19. Three times youth champion of Morocco and runner up in the African Athletics Championships he was selected to compete for Morocco in France in 2003. Whilst approaching the finishing line in first position in a 10km race there he unfurled a SADR flag, the symbol of Saharawi defiance. As a result he was forced into exile. He has not seen his family nor run for any nation since.

Whilst in London, Amaidan will be taking part in a number of events and will even be meeting with MPs in Parliament. He will take in a 'Chariots of Fire' race around Parliament Square and race in a half marathon in Wimbledon and is also hoping for a meeting with Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Sir Craig Reedie newly appointed executive board member.

He will call on the IOC to recognise the SADR and impress MPs the need to increase international political pressure on Morocco to abide by international law and allow the Saharawi people self-determination.

“I have two dreams” says Amaidan. “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”.

Amaidan is in London as a guest of the UK human rights and arts charity, Sandblast, to help promote the “Running the Sahara 2010” (aka the Saharamarathon) taking place in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Algerian desert next February. 

  • Oct 16: To commemorate the 34th anniversary of the International Court of Justice Ruling he will take part in a “Chariots of Fire” race around Parliament Square competing against a number of athletes, MPs and celebrities. Parliament Square
  • Oct 18: Amaidane takes part in the Wimbledon 10k, London
  • Oct 19: Amaidane speaks about his story as a freedom runner from Western Sahara at InSpirals Lounge, Camden, 7pm
  • Oct 20: Testimony at Parliament meeting with All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara

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