Myanmar swimmer abandons Olympic dream in protest Myanmar swimmer abandons Olympic dream in protest

Myanmar swimmer abandons Olympic dream in protest

    NHK Sydney Bureau
    One of Myanmar's top swimmers was tipped to represent the country this summer at the Olympics. Instead, he's leading a campaign against the Myanmar Olympic Committee.

    Melbourne-based swimmer Win Htet Oo, 27, has competed for Myanmar in numerous international events and currently holds the country's 50-meter freestyle record. He has long dreamed of swimming at the Olympics and looked set to achieve his goal this summer. But that changed on February 1, when Myanmar's military staged a coup.

    "I knew then and there that my participation at the Olympic Games would be in doubt," he said. "Under the military regime, I could not represent my country's flag in the Olympic Games because I knew it would be an exercise for propaganda."

    After hearing civilian protesters had become targets of military violence, Win Htet Oo decided to take action. Just three months before the Tokyo Games, he posted a letter denouncing the Myanmar Olympic Committee, calling it a "puppet" of the junta and announced that he would not compete under its stewardship.

    "I shall not march in the parade of nations under a flag steeped in my people's blood," he wrote.

    Protests in Australia
    Win Htet Oo has attended rallies in Australia to protest the coup. He hopes to raise international awareness of the plight of the people of Myanmar.

    Win Htet Oo was deeply affected by the death of 19-year-old Ma Kyal Sin, also known as Angel, during a protest earlier this year. Angel was an avid Taekwondo practitioner and Win Htet Oo says seeing the courage of a fellow athlete inspired him.

    "I saw in Ma Kyal Sin, Angel, the values of Olympism and the values of Taekwondo," he says. "She went out there, defended her community every day until she was struck down. And I'm inspired by her. I'm fortunate that I can live in Australia but they're there every day being tortured by the military."

    Ma Kyal Sin
    Ma Kyal Sin, who went by the nickname Angel, was shot and killed during a protest in Mandalay on March 3. Images of her final moments spread on social media and became emblematic of the protest movement.

    Win Htet Oo has launched a petition that calls on the International Olympic Committee to denounce and expel Myanmar. He says he wants to keep the Olympic Games free from the stain of genocide.

    "What I'm doing is just to get the IOC to repudiate the Myanmar Olympic Committee," he said. "That's what I can do as an athlete, as an athlete activist."

    Though his goal of competing in Tokyo has come to an end, Win Htet Oo still follows a grueling training program. He has not yet given up on his dream of one day going to the Olympics.

    "If democracy returns to Myanmar, and I feel that the values of the people will be very well represented by the Myanmar Olympic Committee, I would," he says. "If I can't do it as an athlete, I want to make sure that kids would be able to do it, would be able to get an Olympic standard time like I have, and even surpass me.

    "That's the future that I want. That's the future I'll strive towards."

    Watch Video 03:21