Olympics protest runner Feyisa Lilesa not going back to Ethiopia, says agent

Lilesa crossed his arms as he finished the marathon (above) in a symbolic protest against the repressive Ethiopian regime.
Lilesa crossed his arms as he finished the marathon (above) in a symbolic protest against the repressive Ethiopian regime.PHOTO: EPA

ROME (AFP) - Olympic marathon silver medallist Feyisa Lilesa will not return to Ethiopia despite assurances he would not be punished for his Rio protest over political repression in his country, his agent said Tuesday (Aug 23).

"I don't think that there is any way that he will (go back to Ethiopia). There are many people who say that it would not be good for him to go back," his agent, Federico Rosa, told AFP.

Rosa, who is based in Italy and has been the athlete's agent for three years, said he did not know exactly what his client was planning to do next, having stayed on in Rio at the end of the Games.

"I cannot say for sure because I have not spoken to him since just after the race, when we had a very short conversation," Rosa said.

Reports have suggested that the runner may seek political asylum in the United States.

On Sunday, Lilesa, who came second to Kenyan favourite Eliud Kipchoge in Rio, crossed his arms as he finished the marathon in a symbolic protest against the repressive Ethiopian regime.

The 26-year-old repeated the gesture during the race's medal ceremony, saying he was afraid to go back to his homeland.

An Ethiopian government spokesman said on Monday that Lilesa would not face any problems if he came home, contrary to the athlete's suggestion in Rio that he could be killed or put in prison.

Rosa said the athlete had not given any indication prior to the race that he planned to make his dramatic gesture.

And he dismissed suggestions that his client wanted to cut his ties to Ethiopia in order to secure a lucrative contract to run for a wealthy Gulf state.

"I have been asked that and it is just pure speculation," the agent said.

"This was a very honourable act, he is not at all after money or anything like that."