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Boycott 'Genocide Games'? Sudan's Olympic athletes say no.

Arab and Darfuri teammates want the event to showcase their talent, not their country's problems.

By Rob CrillyCorrespondent / April 23, 2008

Teammates: Ismail Ahmed Ismail, from the Fur tribe of Darfur, rooms with an Arab when they go on the road with the Sudan athletics team.

Salman Mohammed El Hassan


Khartoum, Sudan

Ismail Ahmed Ismail is a Fur, from one of the Darfur farming tribes who have suffered hardest at the hands of janjaweed raiders and their Khartoum paymasters.

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Abubaker Kaki Khamis is a member of an Arab tribe whose militias were the forerunner of the janjaweed.

But when they go on the road with the Sudanese athletics team, the two are roommates.

"We don't think: 'These are Fur, these are Arab,' " says Mr. Ismail at the ramshackle track and field stadium where they train amid dust and rubble. "It doesn't matter here."

The two are Sudan's brightest prospects for medals at the Beijing Olympics in August, despite having to train on a track riddled with cracks.

Yet their big day is in danger of being overshadowed by campaigners who are trying to use the Olympics to highlight China's poor record on human rights.

Darfur activists in the West have seized on the Beijing Olympics as a way to pressure China into ending its support for the Khartoum government, which is waging war against rebels in the war-torn western region. China consumes two thirds of Sudan's oil exports to fuel its voluminous economy and has sold military jets in return. Filmmaker Stephen Spielberg has already given up his role overseeing the opening ceremony of what campaigners are calling the Genocide Games.

Meanwhile, unrest in Tibet has intensified calls for China to improve its human rights record, as it promised to do to host the Summer Games. Beijing's Olympic flame – which was sent on a four-month, six-continent tour at the beginning of April – was protested raucously in several Western cities, and many world leaders are under pressure to boycott the Games' opening extravaganza.

Yet for a handful of young Darfuris, Beijing is a place for their dreams to come true. "Talk of a boycott makes me angry," says Ismail, who reached the 800-meter finals in Athens four years ago. "We have people in the team from Darfur who are running. If we lost the chance of the Olympics, we would have to wait another four years before having another chance."

His family comes from Wadi Saleh in West Darfur and are members of the Fur tribe. But he says ethnicity does not matter when he dons his Sudanese team vest.