By Mark Gleeson LIBREVILLE (Reuters) – South Sudan, the world’s newest country, hopes to send athletes to the London Olympics but is racing against time to secure membership of various sporting federations and the IOC, the sports minister said on Friday.
Declared independent last July, South Sudan also wants to send a wheelchair basketball team, made up of amputees injured in the conflict in the country, to the Paralympics, Cirino Hiteng Ofuho told Reuters in an interview.
“Right now we are discussing with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to see if we can raise our flag in London. I believe there is enough time for us to be there, not only to raise our flag but to also have some athletes participate.”
This year’s Olympics start on July 27 and run until August 12 while the Paralympics take place from August 29 to September 9.
“We are focusing on the Paralympics where our disabled basketballers are every good. I really believe they can entertain the people in London,” said Ofuho.
“We may also field some long distance runners. We have the right terrain to train our talent for this sport.”
South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan after a referendum on independence last year, satisfies Olympic requirements because it is a member of the United Nations but it still needs approval from the IOC executive board.
“Our associations are working very hard to gain their membership and to fulfil the requirements of the International Olympic Committee to admit South Sudan in London,” said Ofuho.
“It’s a race against time but there’s a lot of goodwill. Right from our independence we have been admitted to a lot of international institutions and we hope that the IOC will afford us the same privilege.”
On Friday, South Sudan were admitted as a provisional member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in an emotive flag-raising ceremony at the congress in Libreville, Gabon.
They were warned it could take up to two more years to gain full membership of soccer’s world governing body but FIFA officials told Reuters they may now seek to make South Sudan their 209th member at their Congress in Budapest in May.
“We are so excited to be here in Libreville following the admission of South Sudan to the family of African football. We are looking forward to developing sports in our country,” said Ofuho.
“We know we need a lot of facilities and we face a lot of challenges but we are to focus on football, basketball, handball, athletics and other sports that can help us to succeed regionally, continentally and even internationally.”