August 1, 2021

The Japanese city that’s rooting for South Sudan at the Olympics

Guem — now a 21-year-old Olympian representing South Sudan — was so quick he shortly caught the attention of a coach, who purchased him correct trainers and sportswear.

However as a budding monitor athlete, his highschool intervened — giving him a scholarship and loaning him trainers, which he gave again to the following pupil after he graduated.

For aspiring South Sudanese athletes, coaching has all the time been a problem. A lot of them, stated Guem, battle to get one sq. meal a day and prepare on uneven rocky terrain.

“I believe round 60% of athletes should not have even a pair of footwear, in order that they run barefoot,” he added.

In 2011, South Sudan gained independence and have become the world’s youngest nation. However civil warfare erupted two years later, killing an estimated 400,000 individuals and forcing hundreds of thousands from their properties to create Africa’s largest refugee disaster and the world’s third-largest after Syria and Afghanistan.
Regardless of the hardships, working saved Guem going. On the 2019 Africa Video games held in Morocco, he broke South Sudan’s nationwide report for the 1,500 meters and was chosen to grow to be a part of his nation’s Olympic crew.
Since November 2019, he and three different South Sudanese athletes and their coach have been residing and coaching within the small Japanese metropolis of Maebashi in Gunma prefecture — round a two-hour drive from Tokyo.

Whereas many Japanese cities and cities that signed as much as host Olympic groups have been compelled to rethink their plans as a result of ongoing pandemic, Maebashi is an exception.

When the pandemic delayed the Video games by one yr, town of 350,000 individuals raised nearly $300,000 nationwide in taxes and donations like trainers and athletic gear in December 2020 to make sure the Olympians and their coach may keep on in Maebashi — and cement an Olympic legacy.

Sports activities and unity

Guem stated he and his crew’s mission is to advertise the significance of unity at residence in South Sudan.

The 1,500m runner stated he sought to symbolize South Sudanese states apart from his personal at native and nationwide competitions.

“I’ve by no means competed for my hometown or my state however all the time for different states to indicate my love for them and that they’re all equal,” he stated.

That pondering is consistent with a South Sudanese sports activities competition dubbed “Nationwide Unity Day,” which has been co-organized by the Japan Worldwide Cooperation Company (JICA), a authorities company supporting progress in different nations, and the South Sudan Ministry of Tradition, Youth and Sports activities. In its fifth yr, that occasion brings collectively younger individuals from throughout South Sudan.

Youths from all over South Sudan come together for the National Unity Day sports festival.

Whereas the members come from completely different tribes and ethnic teams which may not see eye-to-eye, the sports activities competition offers an area for them to search out frequent floor. The youths, as an example, all sleep in the identical constructing, dine collectively, and may work together freely, and get to know one another, stated Guem, who took half in 2016.

“Sports activities is one unifying issue that could be very obligatory for a rustic like South Sudan,” he added. “When you will have warfare, and you might be all the time saved aside, you do not come collectively. And I am positive the blokes went again with completely different mindsets about others.”

‘Like superheros’

Over in Japan, Guem stated he and his crew had discovered a secure surroundings to work in the direction of their aim.

The postponement of Tokyo 2020 alsoo gave them time to coach tougher. Michael Machiek, 30 — South Sudan’s first Paralympian — stated he broke two private bests whereas in Japan.

“That is giving me hope to go and compete with the highest Paralympic athletes,” he stated.

The South Sudan team and their coach, Joseph, (far left) in front of a vending machine in Maebashi city, displaying their nation's flag.

Past coaching, the South Sudanese Olympians have finished what few different worldwide groups could have the chance to do. Over the previous yr and a half, they’ve gotten to know Maebashi residents, sampled the native fare, and attended Japanese and pc lessons 4 instances every week.

“They do not appear to be strangers in Maebashi — it is extra like they’re members of the group. I believe they’re considered like superheroes,” stated Shunya Miyata, the coordinator for Worldwide Cooperation at JICA.

That fandom has even earned them a strong help base.

So far, JICA has bought over 3,000 T-shirts to boost funds for the athletes. Native companies have additionally pitched in. Maebashi metropolis’s dental affiliation pledged free care all through the athlete’s keep, and 10 merchandising machines have been erected in Maebashi to help the South Sudanese crew.

Olympic legacy

Subsequent yr, two athletes who performed an energetic half in Nationwide Unity Day can be invited to spend six months in Maebashi Metropolis as a part of the long-term coaching camp. The purpose is to help the following era of athletes from South Sudan, based on Shinichi Hagiwara, a Maebashi metropolis official.

“By way of the South Sudanese athletes, we have had the chance to consider the thought of peace collectively and notice that it isn’t one thing that we will take as a right,” stated Shinichi Hagiwara, a Maebashi metropolis official.

“Folks in Maebashi can be rooting for these athletes on the Olympics.”

However with the Video games quick approaching — the Opening Ceremony is on July 23 — questions stay over how Tokyo can maintain a large sporting occasion and maintain volunteers, athletes, officers — and the Japanese public — secure from Covid-19.

Althlete Abraham Majok Matet Guem and his team say they are participating in the Olympics to promote the message of peace and unity for South Sudan.
That concern has been amplified by Japan’s battle with a fourth wave. The nation handed 647,000 whole coronavirus circumstances on Wednesday, and a number of other prefectures — together with Tokyo — are underneath a state of emergency till the tip of Might.
To this point, Japan has solely vaccinated about 4.4 million of its 126 million individuals, with roughly just one% of the inhabitants completely vaccinated.

The considered one other Olympic delay is on Guem’s thoughts, however for now, he is staying optimistic.

“It nonetheless worries me as a result of the circumstances, it appears to be rising, and the concern is all the time there, however I’m positive that the Olympics will happen,” stated Guem, who desires to encourage different youths to channel their vitality to creating South Sudan.

“I am doing it for my nation, not for myself. I wish to convey peace in my nation,” stated Guem.

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