Ethiopia’s decision to leave out one its best distance runner, Kenenisa Bekele, from its squad to the 2016 Rio Olympics came as a shock announcement to many.
Bekele, a World Record holder and three-time Olympic gold medalist, was left out of the Ethiopian marathon team list for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August in a decision that has been criticized as outright discrimination.
There are claims that the long distance runner was discriminated against because he come from the Oromo tribe that has had bloody confrontations with the government of Ethiopia since end of last year, NPR reported.
Another runner from the same ethnic group says he was exiled.
In November 2015, a protest broke out in Oromia state, one of the largest provinces in Ethiopia. The protest was started by university students clashing with ant-riot police as they rejected plans by the government to expand the capital city Addis Ababa into the state. The protest turned violent after more people joined the students in the riots.
Human Rights Watch, a global rights agency, estimated that hundreds of people were killed during the protest, but the government denied these allegations.
Bekele told Africa News Agency that the decision to exclude him from participating was “unjust” and the selection criteria “biased”, but never mentioned that he was discriminated against on ethnic grounds.
“I ran the London Marathon before even finishing my training and registered a good point. I did that because I wanted to be considered for the Rio Olympics,” Bekele told ANA in an interview.
“I am very disappointed with the decision.”
The Ethiopian Athletics Federation however says the world record holder failed to meet the requirements, which included an athlete representing his country in world championships, and having the ability to handle pressure in competition abroad.
Bekele said the federation announced its selection less than two months before the games, leaving athletes little time to prepare.
“The Olympics and the world championships are not new to me. I have won more than 20 medals for my country in different competitions. I have recovered from my injury now and it has been a while since we have had a good result in the marathon. I wanted to contribute something for my country,” he said.