Asian Games: Sumariwalla, OCA official upset at Africans dominating athletics

Incheon: Adille Sumariwalla, India's former 100m world record holder and currently the President of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the Chef de Mission of the Indian contingent is worried that the Asian Games is fast resembling the African meet in at least athletics.

Adille Sumariwalla
Adille Sumariwalla 

Sumariwalla, always an outspoken person, even as an athlete in the mid-1980s, said, "It is certainly not very pleasing to see so many African athletes winning middle and long distance events. Not just that we have seen the trend spreading to sprints, too."

He was referring to the increasing number of Africa-born athletes winning events in athletics this time. "It is not fair on Asian athletes. Maybe the competition is becoming stronger, but that is not because we are getting Kenyan, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Nigeria and other athletes suddenly becoming 'Asian'."

Meanwhile, Olympic Council of Asia, honorary life vice-president Wei Jizhong, voiced similar views. During a press conference here Wei said there were 'dangers of buying foreign athletes' to gain instant success in sport.

"We have work in order to avoid any country or region 'buying' athletes instead of training their athletes. This will lower the sports standards in that country," he said.

But the OCA director general Husain Al-Musallam from Kuwait, said he was not worried. "No, we are not worried," he said. "These athletes will raise the standard. They have met all the eligibility requirements and they are eligible to compete.

"They (Asian) athletes will work harder to achieve a higher standard." He also said that many applications from African-born athletes hoping to switch allegiance were being turned down by various Gulf States.

On the first day of athletics competition on Saturday three African-born athletes won gold medals on the track. Alia Saeed Mohammed, originally from Ethiopia who switched to the United Arab Emirates in 2010, won the 10,000m beating Ding Changqin of China and Ayumi Hagiwara of Japan.

Then Moroccan-born Qatari Mohamed Al Garni claiming the men's 5,000m title after fending off challenges from two Bahraini rivals, who also have their origins in Africa. Bahrain had a foreign import winning a gold in women's 3,000m Steeplechase as Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet won the event.

Then on Sunday, Nigerian-born Qatari Femi Ogunode broke the Asian Games and Asian Continental record clocking 9.93 in the men's 100m. The previous record was held by Nigerian-born Qatari Samuel Francis, who finished eighth in the same final.

On Monday, three more gold medals went to athletes, who were formerly from Africa. Leading the trio was former Ethiopian Maryam Yusuf Jamal now a Bahraini citizen won the women's 1,500m, Maryam, who was a victim of politics in her country, had arrived in Switzerland in 2002 for a few races and stayed back seeking asylum and then she applied for citizenship in four countries — France, Turkey, Canada and Bahrain.

Bahrain suggested she change her name and so she became Maryam Yusuf Jamal after being born Zenebach Tola and became a Bahraini. She won a bronze for her new country in 2012 Olympics.

Morocco-born Mohammed Al Garni won for Qatar another gold adding the 1,500m to the 5,000m he won two days earlier. Rasheed Abdulqader Ramzi, who was second in 1,500m, was also Morocco born but shifted to Bahrain in 2001.

And, Kamal Abdul Baker Ali, born in Sudan, who shifted to Qatar, won the men's 3,000m steeplechase on Monday. Many Kenyan and Ethiopian born athletes, who are unable to make their national teams for World Championships and Olympic Games have looked at lucrative offers from the Gulf nations to bolster their athletic future.

In one of the most famous cases before the latest ones, Kenyan-born Saif Saaeed Shaheen shifted to Qatar. He was born and competed as Stephen Cherono who won the gold at the World Junior Championships in 1999 and Commonwealth Games in 2002 for Kenya, before switching to Qatar in 2003.

Shaheen was not only to said to have agreed to change his name but also was said to have received a $1 million to change nationality. The athlete has denied allegations of money changing hands.

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