Marathon Runner Who Went into Exile After Rio Olympics Invited Back to Ethiopia

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2018

HONOLULU, HI - DECEMBER 11:  Feyisa Lilesa of Ethiopia poses for a photograph after crossing the finish line during the Honolulu Marathon 2016 on December 11, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for HONOLULU MARATHON)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Feyisa Lilesa, an Olympic marathon runner, has been invited to return to Ethiopia following two years of self-imposed exile in the United States.

According to the Associated Press' Elias Meseret, the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Ethiopian Olympic Committee reached out to Lilesa after Abiy Ahmed took over as prime minister in the aftermath of Hailemariam Desalegn's resignation. 

In an open letter, the athletics federation and Olympic committee pledged Lilesa would receive "a hero's welcome" if he accepted the invitation to return to Ethiopia. 

Back in 2016, Lilesa protested against the Ethiopian government when he raised his hands above his head, crossed at the wrists, at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. 

According to Meseret, Lilesa and his family are part of the Oromo ethnic group that protested against "the brutal crackdown on opposition, lack of respect for human rights and the imprisonment of dissidents" by Desalegn's regime.

"I'm relieved and very happy that my family is with me," Lilesa told the New York Times' Jere Longman after settling in Arizona in 2017. "But I chose to be in exile. Since I left the situation has gotten much, much worse. My people are living in hell, dying every day. It gives me no rest."

Ahmed, like Lilesa, is of Oromo descent. The Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Olympic committee told Lilesa in an open letter they are prepared to give him "a hero's welcome," per Meseret.

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