The bravest Olympian ever may be this Ethiopian runner, Feyisa Lilesa, who staged a protest against the government of his country even as he clinched a silver medal for Ethiopia in the Olympic Games men’s marathon on Sunday in the just concluded Olympic games.
His simple symbolic gesture of crossing his arms over his head was a dramatic protest that any Ethiopian or outsider who has been following the country’s recent bent should recognise. It is a sign of solidarity with the Oromo people, who are protesting against the Ethiopian government reallocating them from their land.
The protests have ended in a good number of casualties even as the people refuse to back down from their cause and the government employs extreme security initiatives to keep them in line. Human rights groups claim that the Ethiopian security forces have killed scores of people in recent weeks as authorities crack down on a wave of anti-government protests.
Feyisa Lilesa, the bravest Olympian in question came in second to Kenyan favourite, Eliud Kipchoge and even after making the sign, claimed his life could be in danger.
He offered an explanation for his actions;
“The Ethiopian government are killing the Oromo people and taking their land and resources so the Oromo people are protesting and I support the protest as I am Oromo”
Continuing, he admitted that the actions may put a target on his back;
“The Ethiopian government is killing my people so I stand with all protests anywhere as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed. I raised my hands to support with the Oromo protest…If not kill me, they will put me in prison…I have not decided yet, but maybe I will move to another country.”
Despite the bravery that he put on display, the bravest Olympian ever may face some sanctions for his actions. Rule 50 of the Olympic charter bans political displays or protests and the IOC say they are gathering information about the case. Historically, the American duo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos were stripped of their medals after the pair flashed the black power salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Summer Games.
Feyisa Lilesa did not seem all too concerned about that eventuality as he replied when asked about a fear of sanctions;
“I cannot do anything about that. This was my feeling. I have a big problem in my country, it is very dangerous to make protest in my country.”