South Sudanese athletes hope peace will boost sports in war-hit region

By Maria Roldan

Maebashi, Japan, Sep 4 (efe-epa).- South Sudanese athletes, who have been training in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics for months now, hope that an ongoing peace process will help in the development of sports in the war-ravaged African region.

The five-member delegation, made up of four athletes and a coach, has been in the city of Maebashi in the north of Tokyo since November 2019 training for the mega multi-sport event that was originally scheduled this summer.

The athletes are taking advantage of their extended stay to hone their skills for the Tokyo Olympics that has now been postponed to 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The sportspersons, including a woman athlete, are following the peace process in the neighboring Sudan, where the transition government signed a peace agreement with rebel groups on Aug 31 to end years of conflict in the Darfur region, bordering South Sudan.

The Sudanese peace pact was signed in the South Sudanese capital Juba after South Sudan leaders brokered the talks between the Sundanese government and a coalition of rebel groups operating from Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and the Blue Nile.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, got independence from Sudan in 2011 but was mired in a deadly civil war for years that has killed an estimated 400,000 people and left millions homeless.

“Now that peace has come. I have great hopes that sports will be developed too,” team captain and runner Abraham Majok Matet Guem, a 21-year-old 1,500-m runner, told EFE.

“Signing the peace agreement gives us hope as young citizens,” Guem said, adding they would no longer have to worry about surviving the bloodshed.

Guem said the sport is a powerful tool for building and promoting peace.

The Olympic delegation arrived in Maebashi, thanks to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) that organizes relevant sporting events in Sudan.

The team is led by coach Joseph Rensio Tobia Omirok, 59. They were supposed to stay in Maebashi until July after which they had to move to the Olympic Village.

But the postponement of the Olympic Games disturbed the schedule, sometimes even sparking fears that they would be asked to pack up for home.

“I was shocked (by the postponement) and also I thought they were sending us back to South Sudan,” says Lucia Moris, 19, a 100 and 200-meter runner and the only woman in the delegation.

“When they decided to give us another chance I was excited.”

Guem said the postponement could be turned into an advantage. “I will have enough time to (train).”

The other two athletes include 400-meter hurdles athlete Joseph Akoon Akoon,18, and Paralympic athlete Michael Machiek Ting Kutjang, 29.

All of them agree that their stay in Japan had allowed them access to training and equipment otherwise not possible in their homeland.

“We have all the necessary items needed for proper training, including a gym, which we didn’t have access to (at home), because it requires money,” Guem said.

Their stay is financed by donations from citizens and sponsorships from sports firms.

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