Subject: ST: No excess baggage please, we're Timorese


Straits Times

DEC 13, 2003 No excess baggage please, we're Timorese

By G. Sivakkumaran

SINGAPOREANS who win gold medals at the South-east Asia Games can expect $10,000 each, Malaysians will get RM5,000 (S$2,250) and Thais will receive 100,000 baht (S$4,300).

But, quipped the head of the Timor Leste delegation Joao Viegas Carrascalao, here in Vietnam: 'If any of our 16 athletes win a medal, they have to give me money to pay for the excess baggage on the plane!'

That is the state of the Timorese, who are taking part in the athletics, weightlifting, cycling, karate, tennis, taekwondo and boxing competitions.

No proper facilities, scarce equipment and no money. So why are they here, when they don't expect to win medals?

Explained Carrascalao, who is president of the Timor Leste National Olympic Committee: 'We took part in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and last year's Asian Games, but that was under the United Nations' flag.

'This is the first time we're taking part in a major sporting event under our very own flag. The SEA Games are held in the region and we must show that we belong here.

'This is a major source of pride for a country that has been colonised by Portugal and then Indonesia for 400 years.'

Marathoner Aguida Amaral, a policewoman who finished 43rd at the Olympics, added: 'At least, we can show that we are finally able to compete with the others on an equal basis.'

That, however, is difficult when none of the government's small budget of US$70 million (S$120 million) goes into sports.

The priority for the administration, which took control of its own affairs from the United Nations in May 2002, is to provide jobs.

Carrascalao, who was infrastructure minister under the UN administration, says that Timor Leste's stadium and training facilities were either destroyed or badly damaged in the riots that followed a 1999 referendum where the people voted to be independent of Indonesia.

'We had virtually nothing left when the Indonesian forces left,' he said. 'Even now, we have only managed to rebuild our main gymnasium.'

So, to train, the athletes have had to either innovate or make do.

For example, Amaral and fellow-marathoner Xavier do Rego run along the hills that dot the capital Dili, tennis players avoid the holes on the courts, while the rest squeeze into the main gymnasium.

Said do Rego, 28: 'It's not easy, but I love to run, and it is better than doing nothing at home.'

None of the Timorese athletes have made it past the first round, but they still serve as an inspiration to the two-thirds of the population of 800,000 who are below 35, especially as unemployment is about 50 per cent.

'We want our younger generation to get off the streets and do something productive, like play a sport. Otherwise, they will just start punching each other,' said Carrascalao.

'What we really want is to take part in a football tournament. Football is our most popular sport. We hope to make it for next year's Tiger Cup, but it is too expensive to send a team abroad.'

They have had to depend on others' generosity just to take part in the SEA Games. For example, Macau provided sports shoes, Malaysia gave training equipment and tracksuits, while Vietnam underwrote the delegation's airfare and accommodation.


Malay Mail

December 8, 2003


TIMOR Leste athletes making their debut in the SEA Games, are unhappy with their chef-de-mission and Olympic Council president, Joao Carascalao.

The debutants are represented by 22 athletes who are competing in athletics, boxing, karate, taekwondo, cycling, tennis and weightlifting.

Yesterday, two athletes - marathon runners Agueda Fatimma and Xavier Do Rego - and coach, Domingos Urbano, went to see Carascalao at his hotel in Hanoi to ask for their running shoes for their event on Dec 12. However, Carascalao simply told them he has run out of money and they would not get their running shoes and put down the phone.

Repeated efforts by the coach and athletes to speak to him from the hotel house-phone failed as he refused to pick up the phone.

Almost in tears, the athletes and coach returned to their hostel.

Before leaving, Urbano said: "What is the point of asking the athletes to come here after training so hard, when the official cannot deliver his promise? "Carascalao had specifically told the athletes they would get their equipment in Hanoi.

"Now he tells us he has run out of money," he said.

The 29-year-old Agueda, who competed in her first international competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Timor made their debut in international sports event, said: "I was all fired up to win the gold in the marathon and it is indeed disheartening to hear the chef-de-mission has run out of money.

"I really do not know what to do now.

I want to race and hope that I can borrow a pair of shoes." Xavier also felt that same way.

"This is very disheartening.

I was looking forward to my SEA Games debut and winning a medal," he said.

Urbano said their attire was sponsored by the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM), who had made arrangements through their official equipment sponsor, Antioni, to supply the 22 athletes and a handful of officials with tracksuits and T-shirts.

The attire was delivered to the athletes in Hanoi.

"If the package had been sent to our country, I am sure we would not have got it," said Urbano.

"We are indeed grateful to OCM, for without their assistance, we will not have official gear for the Games." Timor Leste's expenses for the Games were borne by hosts Vietnam, which included airfare and accommodation.

Minutes after the two marathon runners and the coach left the hotel, another two officials from Timor Leste were also seen trying to get in touch with Carascalao.

So far, it has not been a dream debut for these athletes.

Back to December menu
World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu