LONDON • South Sudan's first Olympic Games team is in disarray over allegations an advertising deal influenced which athletes were selected to compete at Rio de Janeiro.
Two of the three runners in South Sudan's team have been de-registered by their country's athletics federation - prohibiting them from competition - because they were not proposed for selection by the federation. But they were ultimately chosen in the team by the National Olympic Committee.
The secretary-general of South Sudan's National Olympic Committee, Tong Chor Malek Deran, has said in correspondence with athletes, and in interviews, that he felt pressured to choose one of those athletes - Margret Rumat Rumar Hassan. He said this was because the sprinter was the centrepiece of an advertising campaign for Samsung, despite the fact she was not the fastest runner in the country.
In an e-mail he sent to athletes and media after The Guardian revealed the selection crisis, he wrote: "We have selected Margret as she is an Olympian (Youth Olympics 2014) and her activity was shown during our recognition by IOC (International Olympic Committee) in Kuala Lumpur (at the meeting where South Sudan was admitted to the Olympic Games), and moreover she has been contracted by Samsung to (be in a commercial), so we are to complete her story to Rio."
In a radio interview with the ABC in Australia, he said: "We choose her because already we have signed a contract with Samsung, that she is an Olympian."
Olympic sponsor Samsung has denied any influence on the team selection. It said in a statement: "Samsung does not have any sponsorship agreements with the South Sudanese Olympic team, and Samsung was not involved in the South Sudanese National Olympic Committee's decisions."
South Sudan is the world's newest nation, emerging from four decades of brutal civil war to win its independence from Sudan in 2011. It remains stricken by famine and drought, and by newly re-emergent internecine fighting.
Rio will be the first Olympics the country is taking part in, and it intended to send a small team to compete only in track and field events.
No South Sudanese athletes have recorded an automatic qualifying time in their event for the Games.