New European champion runner for Switzerland invited by IOC to rejoin Olympic refugee team for Paris

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The new European champion in the men’s 10,000 meters, Dominic Lobalu, was invited Thursday by the IOC to run at the Paris Games next month for the Olympic Refugee Team he walked out of in 2019.

If Lobalu chooses to rejoin the team he left five years ago, fueled in part by a dispute over prize money, he could win its first Olympic medal. The official refugee team began competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Lobalu took 10,000 gold late Wednesday in Rome, adding to his bronze in the 5,000 on Saturday, weeks after World Athletics allowed him to represent Switzerland despite not being a citizen.

“He is currently not a Swiss national, which the Olympic Charter would require,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement Thursday after its executive board declined to approve his eligibility six weeks before the Paris opening ceremony.

Lobalu, a refugee from South Sudan, has lived and trained in Switzerland since leaving the Olympic program in a dispute over controlling management of runners.

Lobalu later told Time magazine in an interview for an article published ahead of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that team management restricted runners’ ability to earn and keep the prize money from road races.

He said he rejected an offer to return to the program that could have let him make his Olympic debut in Tokyo.

In Tokyo that year, IOC officials acknowledged the criticism prompted a review of the refugee athlete program.

The IOC detailed on Thursday its invitation for Lobalu to add to the previously announced Olympic Refugee Team for Paris of 36 athletes from 11 countries in 12 sports.

“He has the offer to compete in Paris, it’s perfectly possible,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “Our rules are pretty clear. You need to have nationality of the country you are representing.”

Swiss Olympic team officials explained to the IOC that it’s “very tough to obtain Swiss citizenship,” Adams said, with a minimum requirement of 10 years’ residency.


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