London 2012: 18-strong Syrian delegation refuse to speak about Assad at Olympic Welcoming Ceremony

 

The first medal ceremony of the London Games took place in the athletes village this lunchtime. The discipline was saying as little as possible about a barbaric regime and the run away winner was Team Syria.

Shortly after 2.30pm, the 18-strong delegation from the Syrian Arab Republic (as Olympics volunteers were under orders to refer to the country) trooped into a plaza to be formally welcomed to the Games and put on a bravura display of keeping shtum about the horrific violence being meted out by forces loyal to Bashar Al Assad.

In an unscripted contravention of the Olympic protocol which bans overtly political symbols, a small group of invited supporters arrived for the theatrical Welcoming Ceremony wrapped in national flags carrying the face of the Syrian president.

Roger Dahi, the coach for what is Syria's largest ever Olympic team, confirmed that many of his ten athletes had completed their training in the increasingly war-torn country but when asked whether the fighting now raging in Damascus had impacted preparations, his response was robustly terse.

He told The Independent: “I know only about sport. I don't know about politics. If you want to ask me some questions about sport, I'll gladly answer them. If you want to ask about politics then I can give you some phone numbers for politicians.”

A similar response came from three other Syrian athletes, including weightlifter Ahed Jouhili. He said: “I am just here to participate.”

Ahmed Saber Hamcho, a show jumper with links to the Assad regime who spends much of his time in London as a student, made no comment. Mr Hamcho's father, Muhammad is a prominent Syrian businessman and is related by marriage to Maher al-Assad, Bashar's much-reviled younger brother.

It was unclear whether the reticence of the athletes and their support staff arose from instructions, self-preservation or loyalty to the Assad regime. Possibly all three.

But the team, whose head General Mowaffak Joumaa has been refused a visa by the British Government, went about their task with gusto, waving the Syrian flag and singing their national anthem significantly more loudly than the accompanying delegations from Nepal, Haiti and Sri Lanka.

In contrast to the aversion to controversy shown by official team members, Hala Mhamma, an Anglo-Syrian from Chelsea, west London, felt no unease about expressing her views on the reasons for the strife in her home country.

Draped in the flag carrying the image of President Assad sporting a pair of despot-style aviator sunglasses, Mrs Mhamma said she and her family had been invited to the ceremony by the delegation and wanted to show support for the regime.

She said: “I think it was important for us to show there is another side to this argument. We support Assad. This violence is the fault of the armed gangs and terrorists. The army and the police are doing their job to control it.”

London 2012 staff appeared to make no effort to ask for the flags to be removed and seemed more intent on asking members of the media not to talk to the Syrian team during the ceremony.

After presenting Dame Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister who was acting as Britain's welcomer-in-chief, with gifts consisting of a traditional Syrian board game and an embroidered table cloth, the most controversial delegation to the London Olympics disappeared behind the pink hoardings into the athletes village where the media cannot follow.

To their left stood the Olympic Truce Wall, a set of perspex columns which a member of each delegation is invited to sign. It carries the following thought from London Games head Lord  Coe: “Sport is one of those forces that still offers real hope.”

Eventually it will be signed by a Syrian athlete. But it went unsigned yesterday afternoon.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
News
science
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?