Syria to send 10 athletes to London Olympics
DAMASCUS, Syria -- Syria plans to send up to 10 athletes and 20 sports administrators to the London Olympics despite spiraling violence and a looming travel ban against top officials.
As many as 10 athletes have qualified or been given wild-card invitations to compete in swimming, track and field, weightlifting, boxing, equestrian and shooting, Syrian Olympic Committee President Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa said.
Most of the Olympic athletes have been training in Syria despite the violence and 14-month government crackdown on an uprising that has killed thousands of people and led to broad sanctions and a European Union travel ban against top officials.
Joumaa said he and other sports officials will travel to London despite the British government's warning that they could be banned from attending the Olympics because of close links to President Bashar Assad.
The International Olympic Committee has provided funding for a handful of Syrian athletes to train outside their country to help them qualify for track and field and swimming events at the London Games.
All athletes will compete under the Syrian flag at the London Games, Joumaa told The Associated Press.
"We hope that our performance at the Olympic Games will be successful," Joumaa said, adding that all athletes from the war-torn country will be competing "under the black-red-white flag, which we cherish."
Syria has never won an Olympic medal.
Nasser al-Sayyed, the secretary general of the Syrian Olympic Committee, said athletes who have qualified so far include weightlifter Soraya Sobh, boxer Wassim Salameh, equestrian rider Ahmed Saber Hamsho and high jumper Majd Eddin Ghazal.
"I have been psychologically affected by the crisis in Syria, but I will be extremely happy to compete under the Syrian flag," the 27-year-old Salameh said. "It will be great."
Swimmers Azad Barazi, Bayan Jamaa and Faisal Saleh Mohammed are still waiting for an official confirmation they will compete at the Olympics.
Shooter Raya Zeineddine, who is one of the three female athletes on the Syrian team, has received a wild-card invitation and weightlifter Ali Mohammed is to receive one that will take him to London.
Last year, Syria boycotted the Arab Games, keeping 250 athletes from competing in the multisport event hosted by the Gulf state of Qatar. Syrian sports officials decided on the boycott to protest the Arab League decision to suspend the country's membership.
The IOC worked hard to make sure Syrian athletes will be competing in London despite turmoil in their country. Because of the conflict, the IOC has been sending its funding directly to the athletes rather than through the Syrian Olympic Committee, although the Syrian body remains fully recognized by the IOC.
Surk reported from London.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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