Sunday, May 19, 2013

Eritrean athletes abandoned by scottish athletics

Tewoldeberhan Mengisteab, Chichi Guly, Tsegai Tewelde and Kokob Mehari
The seven Eritrean athletes granted political asylum after the 2008 world cross country championships in Edinburgh have been left in limbo by apparent negligence by the Scottish athletics body.

They could have been competing for Scotland, and collecting prize money for the past two years while living on the breadline.
Since they were not eligible for Scotland, they were often ruled out of winning prizes. One angry senior official described it last night as "shocking" and will raise the matter at a board meeting on Monday.
The Eritrean athletes changed the face of Scottish athletics. They were adopted and nurtured by Shettleston Harriers for whom they won a succession of national and district titles, and smashed numerous race records. This led to them being touted as the nucleus of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth team.
Yet more than five years on, despite having been granted indefinite leave to stay in Britain, the runners seem no nearer making their Scotland debut. Once among the best in the world, they have become so disillusioned that some have given up the sport altogether. Others have lost heart and no longer train with the same intensity. The delay has slowed applications for a UK passport which they need to compete in the Commonwealth Games.
For the first time in five years, having monopolised the Stewarts cross country and road running grands prix, they failed to win last year. Glasgow council have been supportive, and even the Red Road flats must have seemed like paradise compared to a land where they were brutalised and threatened with a life of conscription and curtailed education – taken from teachers at the point of a gun.
When we exclusively reported their attempt to stay in Britain, they confirmed that teachers were sometimes conscripted as well. They told how punishment and torture in the army was routine – defaulters suspended from trees with arms tied behind their backs, a technique known as "almaz" or diamond, or locked in freight containers with ferocious temperatures by day, and near zero at night.
As we walked on the grass outside the Red Road YMCA, one of them, Tsegai Tewelde, said the goats he used to herd "would eat all this in a day". Was he an economic migrant? The notion seemed to appal him. "I want to stay here for my life," he replied. "If we go home they'll send us to the army." He confided that while looking after the animals he had been blown up by a landmine, aged eight, and that his body was riddled with shrapnel. Yet he had finished fifth in the 1500m at the World Junior championship, breaking the equivalent of four minutes for the metric mile when just 17.
The Glasgow club which adopted them is angry and disappointed that scottishathletics has been so unsupportive. Numerous emails have passed between the governing body's committees, its chief executive Nigel Holl, and club representatives, but despite repeated assurances that they would be contacting the world governing body in Monaco, they have still heard nothing.
"They are disillusioned and have lost heart," said a Shettleston spokesman last night. "They are not running well because they have lost all hope. They came here, trained and worked hard, winning everything. They thought they'd get a chance to represent their new country. We kept being told 'next month – we're writing to the International Association of Athletics Federations'. Five years on nothing's happened."
Herald Sport contacted Nick Davies, the IAAF deputy general secretary who is currently in China for the Diamond League in Shanghai. He confirmed yesterday that he had checked with colleagues at their Monte Carlo headquarters: "We have received nothing from either Britain or Eritrea on this matter in the past couple of years . . . for the IAAF to act, we require a request from one of our members."
Since scottishathletics is not a member of IAAF, but affiliates through UK Athletics, he said any approach would have to have been through UKA, yet Shettleston say they have communications indicating that scottishathletics were contacting the world body.
The IAAF said that the athletes could have been competing for Scotland as soon as three years residence was completed, and that no clearance from either them or Eritrea was needed under those circumstances. So for the past two years they have been in unnecessary limbo.
"Scottish athletics has lost several world class athletes due to this," argue Shettleston, "it is annoying now to discover they could have been wearing a Scottish vest for two years."
Tewelde said: "We have been de-motivated by all the delay, and haven't been running much."
Scottishathletics ceo Holl, who had told Shettleston he was writing to the IAAF, could not be contacted yesterday. However, national endurance coach Mike Johnston who recruited leading English athletes such as Stef Twell to Scotland's colours, said the Eritrean cases had been referred to the sport's management board.
Professor Ron Morrison, the cross country and road official on the scottishathletics board said: "The athletes' treatment has been shocking and I will be raising this at our management board meeting on Monday. This is something that annoys me."

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