In one day, a simple ‘x’ symbol done by crossing one’s hand over their head has made a hero of a man. Ethiopia’s Feyisa Lilesa clinched a silver medal and then went on to make the sign which was a symbol of solidarity with his people; the Oromo people of Ethiopia. He is now considered the bravest Olympian to date.
Interviews after the ‘event’ of his making the sign saw the bravest Olympian admitting that he may be killed in his home country upon return and that he may have to stay in another country for that reason.
Although at the time, he said that he had not made up his mind, a crowd-funding campaign has raised more than $40,000 (£30,000) to help him seek asylum.
Ethiopia’s government is denying that there is any bounty upon his head, claiming that he will be welcomed as a ‘hero’. Despite that assurance, state media has refrained from showing photos of him crossing the line. In the protests by the Oromo people who Lilesa was showing solidarity to, US-based Human Rights Watch has said that security forces have killed more than 400 Oromo protesters, a figure the government disputes.
The crowd-funding page was set up within hours of his protest with the California-based organiser saying that the runner had displayed “extraordinary heroism” and that he had become an “international symbol” for the Oromo protests.
The bar for the crowd-funding efforts had been initially set a target of $10,000 but that was exceeded within an hour. The bar was then raised to $25,000 and that too was exceeded in a few hours.
Information Minister Getachew Reda spoke to BBC and said that the country’s government had no reason to arrest him and it respected his political opinion. Mr. Feyisa has a wife and two children in Ethiopia so he has other’s outside of himself to consider.
Whether the bravest Olympian goes back to his country or eventually does seek asylum, it has been refreshing to watch him steal the hearts of people all over the world with his bold stand on an international stage like the Olympic Games.