Worldwide coverage of the Rio Olympics’ opening ceremony was dominated by the countries with the biggest teams and those with the most glamorous uniforms.
In contrast to the 554 men and women from the U.S. team, the largest group in Rio, Somalia’s team of two athletes was the second smallest at the games, but Somalis at home and around the world are following them closely.
The head of the Somali Olympic team, Fadumo Ali Nur, said the gala ceremony in Rio left her with mixed emotions.
“In one way, I was very happy to see Somalia’s flag flying before the whole world,” she told VOA’s Somali service. “And in another way I was so sad, because we don’t have enough athletes, qualified athletes. We cannot participate in all the sports.”
Somalia is competing in just two events — the women’s 400 meters, with 19-year-old Maryam Nuh Muse running, and the men’s 5,000 meters, with 20-year-old Mohamed Daud Mohamed.
Somalia’s entire Olympic delegation consists of eight people — the two athletes, a coach, a doctor and members of the nation’s Olympic committee.
Nur, herself a former national basketball player, said the team is small “because of the civil war, because of the lack of infrastructure, because of the lack of talented Somali athletes.”
“They run away from the country, and they’re spread all over the world,” Nur told VOA.
Standout for Britain
For example, she said, “look at Mo Farah” — Mohamed Farah, 33, born in Mogadishu, who lived in Britain as a child. Competing for Britain for the past 10 years, he became famous by winning gold medals in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the London Olympics, and again at both the 2013 and 2015 world track championships.
There are lots of talented athletes born in Somalia, Nur said, but they now live abroad and don’t want to come back because of the violence that has ravaged their homeland.
Apart from security, Somali sports organizations simply lack the resources and proper facilities to produce competitive athletes.
A sad footnote to the makeup of this year’s Somali Olympic squad was the loss of Samiya Yusuf Omar, a 200-meter sprinter who competed in the 2008 Beijing Games but died in April 2012 in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach Europe.
Omar’s family said she fell into the sea and drowned off the Italian coast while trying to reach a rope thrown to her and other migrants by coast guards. She had left Ethiopia, where she was training, and gone to Libya, where she later began the risky journey that took her life.
Nur said the team would honor Omar’s memory by observing two minutes silence on August 13, the day when Somalia’s Muse is due to run her 400-meter race.
“We agreed — me and our secretary-general and the team and other neighboring countries — to do a two-minute silence to remember her,” Nur said. “There is nothing else we can do; we have to talk about the future. She was looking for a better future from Somalia.”