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Mali: Athletes Go to London Olympics With Heads Held High

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012.

Mali has faced many challenges during the past months. The country has been caught up in a political crisis that threatens to split it in two, and has suffered a humanitarian disaster that has put millions of Malians at risk of malnutrition from drought and locust invasion.

Despite the struggle, Mali has made a point to send a strong delegation to the Olympic Games in London. The idea is for the athletes to represent Mali with dignity and show that there is another aspect to the Malian nation beside the ongoing crisis. The president of the CNOSM (the Malian National Olympic Committee) Habib Sissoko declared [fr]:

Beaucoup de gens pensaient que le Mali allait être absent à Londres à cause de la situation politique et sécuritaire qui prévaut dans notre pays depuis le début de l’ année. Nous serons bel et bien présents à Londres et notre objectif est de prouver au monde que malgré les difficultés, notre pays reste débout. Le gouvernement a consenti un énorme sacrifice financier pour permettre au Mali d’ être présent à ce prestigieux rendez-vous sportif et olympique. Ce sera une opportunité d’ acquérir surtout de l’ expérience dans leur carrière.

Many people believed that Mali would be absent from the London Games because of the political and security situation in our country since the start of the year. But we will definitely be in London and our goal is to prove to the whole world that in spite of our struggles, our country is still standing. The government made a major financial sacrifice to allow Mali to be represented at this prestigious sporting event. It will be a great opportunity for our athletes to gain experience.

Poster celebrating Malian Olympic athlete Daba Modibo Kéita, Bamako. Photo from Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Mali will send six athletes and 31 people in total to London for the Olympics. The website abamako.com lists the name of the selected athletes [fr]:

Six athlètes vont défendre les couleurs du Mali à Londres. Il s`agit de Daba Modibo Kéita (taekwondo), Oumar Koné (judo), Rahamatou Dramé et Moussa Camara (athlétisme), Mamadou A. Soumaré et Fatoumata Samassékou (natation). Et c`est Rahamatou Dramé qui sera le porte-drapeau de la délégation malienne lors de la cérémonie d` ouverture prévue vendredi prochain. Parmi les six représentants du Mali, Daba Modibo Kéita est sans doute le plus attendu par ses compatriotes. Contraint à l` abandon aux J.O. de Pékin (blessure) alors qu` il faisait figure d` intouchable, le double champion du monde des poids lourds (2007-2009) n` aura droit à aucune excuse en cas d`échec cette année.

Six athletes will defend the colors of Mali in London. Daba Modibo Kéita (taekwondo), Oumar Koné (judo), Rahamatou Dramé and Moussa Camara (track and field), Mamadou A. Soumaré and Fatoumata Samassékou (swimming). And it's Rahamatou Dramé who will be the flag bearer for the Malian delegation at the opening ceremony next Friday. Among the six representatives of Mali, Daba Modibo Kéita is probably the most eagerly awaited by his countrymen. He was forced to abandon the Beijing Olympics because of an injury, even though he seemed unbeatable. The double world champion heavyweight (2007-2009) will have no excuse if he fails this year.

The following video shows Daba Modibo Kéita, a.k.a. “the gladiator”, at a taekwondo tournament:

Daba Modibo Kéita was interviewed about the future of his sport in Mali and what he means for Mali:

Taekwondo is not well developed in Mali compared to Korea, Iran, Spain, the United States, and Mexico… But because I’m a two-time World Champion, people in my country have become more and more drawn to martial arts and they’re sticking with it. It’s humbling and reminds me always that the kids watch what I do and they may try to emulate me, so I have to be responsible as to not lead them down the wrong path. As a World Champion, I’m bringing an entire nation of people to Taekwondo, giving much the hope that they too can accomplish what I have accomplished. Today Taekwondo ranks third in my country in popularity, just behind soccer and basketball…and I’m extremely proud of that.

He adds about Mali:

Mali is a little poor country in Africa and so many children have talents but they don’t have that opportunity to be in better condition to rise up. [...] I graciously ask every reader to pray for my country, Mali, and other African nations suffering civil unrest. May these nations rise above the violence and learn to eradicate power struggles. May Africa one day lead the globe in human rights and compassion for every citizen, regardless of tribe or ethnic affiliation.

Another challenge for Malian athletes is to decide whether to fast or not for Ramadan during the London Games. They are not alone in this predicament. There are about 3,000 to 3,500 athletes [fr] who are struggling with reconciling their religious practice and the demands of the competition.

The thumbnail image used with this post is a screen grab from this video uploaded by youtube user globovision88.

This post is part of our special coverage London Olympics 2012.

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