Ethiopian marathoner Feyisa Lilesa has been invited home after living in exile since his showing of political protest at the conclusion of his Olympic marathon in 2016.
As he neared the end of his silver medal performance two years ago, Lilesa raised his arms to form an “X.” The gesture is a peaceful protest made by the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
Hundreds of Oromo people had been killed, and thousands injured, by June of 2016 as the government attempted to stop an estimated 500 protests against systemic persecution in the country.
Lilesa hails from the regional state of Oromia, which is home to the majority of the country’s 35 million Oromo people. He continued the protest after his marathon, holding up the “X” for media in post-race news conferences.
— Chris Chavez (@ChrisChavez) August 21, 2016
Rule 50 of the Olympic charter bans political displays or protests. Other related examples includes the American duo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos getting suspended by the USOC after the pair held the black power salute on the medal stand at the 1968 Summer Games. Beyond Olympic sanctions, Lilesa feared for his life if he went back to Ethiopia after the Games.
At the time, he said he would try to stay in Brazil, or perhaps the United States. He ended up going to the U.S. for two years, and his wife and children joined him from Ethiopia in 2017.
In 2017, he told the Associated Press: “As long as this current government is in power, I don’t have hope of going back to Ethiopia.” However, reformist prime minister Abiy Ahmed assumed power in April.
#Ethiopia: Ethiopian Olympic Committee & Athletics Federation have called athlete #FeyisaLilesa, who protested at #RioOlympic & left Ethiopia to live in #Arizona, to return home. Both institutions said Feyisa will receive a hero's welcome had he chose to return. Source: @awekeab pic.twitter.com/13XJjGTPMZ
— AP News (@Africaplenary) August 15, 2018
Since then, Lilesa has received an open letter from the nation’s athletics federation head Haile Gebrselassie and Olympic committee chief Ashebir Woldegiorgis that says they are ready to give him “a hero’s welcome.”
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