Somalia – the nation that produced double Olympic champion Mo Farah – has sent only two athletes to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Runners Maryan Nuh Muse and Mohamed Daud Mohamed are joining more than 11,000 athletes there. But why such a small team?
The problem is not lack of talent. Both Farah, who won two gold medals at London 2012, and Mohammed Ahmed, who made his Olympic debut then, coming 18th in the 10,000m, were born in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
But both were competing for their adoptive countries, having left Somalia with their families when they were youngsters. Farah now represents Great Britain and Ahmed runs for Canada.
What are the problems?
First, the Somali Olympic National Committee has little by way of a budget for its athletes. The team does not have private doctors. Any medical treatment needed must come from public hospitals, themselves under-funded and lacking proper equipment.
It began preparations for Rio in 2014 by deciding to appoint a technical group charged with travelling widely in Somalia to identify and train potential competitors.
But spotting talent outside Mogadishu has been hampered by the fact that some areas are still under the control of militant Islamist group al-Shabab.
And many young Somalis have been leaving the country to try to escape the violence and poverty. One was sprinter Samia Yusuf Omar, who represented Somalia at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
She initially moved to Ethiopia, in part to avoid being harassed by local militants who disapproved of Muslim women competing in sport.
Her story inspired a graphic novel by Richard Kleist entitled “An Olympic Dream”.
But Samia’s dream was shattered in 2012 as she drowned when a boat in which she was trying to reach Europe capsized off the Libyan coast.
Who are the Somali competitors?
Mohamed Daud Mohamed, 20, will compete in the 5,000m. Born in neighbouring Kenya, he is a former footballer. The Rio games will be his first international competition.
Maryan Nuh Muse, 19, has already represented Somalia in various African and international competitions including the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in China. She will be running in the 400m.
The road to the Olympics has not been an easy one. Their training sessions at Mogadishu’s Banaadir Stadium were not helped by the lack of proper equipment and the poor state of the track.
Their coach, Mohamed Addow, told the African news agency recently that they had “been training for seven months now and I hope that our efforts will bear fruits”.
Somalia has taken part in 11 Olympic Games but has never won a single medal. Perhaps these two athletes can change that record.
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