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Banned goalkeeper says Syrian athletes don’t want to participate in Olympics

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Syrian footballers after an Olympic qualifier against Japan in February. (Getty)

Syrian rebel leader and former youth national team goalkeeper Abdelbasset Saroot has told a U.K. TV channel that his country's Olympians do not want to participate in the London games amidst the ongoing violence of the Syrian revolution. According to Saroot, many of the athletes are deprived of information about the safety of their families amidst the Syrian revolution back home in order to keep them focused on their competitions.

From Reuters (via Larry Brown Sports):

In an interview with ITV News, 20-year-old Saroot said: "I personally know the majority of the athletes don't want to take part and they are only going (out of) fear (for) their families - the regime repercussions if they don't comply."

"Our message to the IOC is that half of the Syrian teams going to play matches or those taking part in the Olympics will not know much about what is happening here in Homs (Syria's third-largest city). The authorities hide the news from them. [...]"I know personally that half of these players are leaving against their will. They are playing against their will, and I want to share this message with the world and the world will see for themselves.

"The athletes don't want to play for a flag that they have no pride or faith in."

Saroot was given a lifetime participation ban by Syria's National Sports Association after he became a vocal leader of the rebels protesting against president Bashar al-Assad in his hometown of Homs last year. Even without the ban, Saroot would not have participated in the London Olympics because Syria failed to qualify for the men's soccer tournament.

Despite Saroot's assertions, the president of Syria's National Olympic Committee, General Mowaffak Joumaa, stated unequivocally that Syria will take part in the Olympics. This despite pressure to have the country banned amidst violence that has resulted in 9,000 civilian deaths and 3,000 security troops killed by rebels, according to the United Nations.

The IOC and British prime minister David Cameron have both said that Syria's athletes will be welcome at the Olympics, but Cameron added that any Syrian government officials carrying a European Union travel ban will not.

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