Dear Liberian National Olympic Committee,
Let’s discuss one of my favorite seasons — the Olympics. This festive event combines the cheerfulness of Christmas with the anticipation of a Leap Year. Who doesn’t love it? It’s the one time that countries can put on a united front, regardless of internal conflicts. We can applaud and celebrate the best athletes that we have to offer. After all, just qualifying to compete in an Olympic event is an amazing achievement. Watching our lone star and solid stripes march under the flames of the Olympic torch symbolizes our worth. It means that we are good enough. We are strong enough. Despite all of our inadequacies, we can run with the best of them.
When I heard that Liberia would compete in a sport other than Track and Field, at the 2012 Olympic Games, I was ecstatic. Liberia has talented runners, but a Liberian Judo fighter signified Liberia’s progress. It meant that we were developing other passions and skills among Liberian youths. It meant that my dreams of transforming Snake Babies into Olympic Gymnasts and Kru Fishermen into Olympic Rowers could actually happen. But I might have jumped the gun because the young fighter chosen to represent Liberia— Levi Saryee — was nothing more than a martial con artist.
Somehow Saryee and his “coach” managed to travel from Liberia to London, despite the fact that they knew nothing about Judo. He confessed right before the match began and forfeited the fight. But the damage was done. Saryee’s scandalous deception was a roundhouse kick to every athlete that has ever represented Liberia, and an insult to every Liberian.
Somewhere in this world, a Liberian Judo fighter is working for the chance to compete at a monumental level. Saryee stole this young fighter’s opportunity and you all allowed it. This rare Olympic Judo invitation was raffled away like a British vacation, and what was the consequence? Nothing. No apology. No repercussion.
Instead, Saryee posted taunting pictures on his Facebook page enjoying the Olympic village and posing with U.S. Olympic Basketball star Kobe Bryant. He even wrote an incriminating caption under one of his photos, “London [.] City where I spend my vacation season.”
This is unacceptable.
As far as I am concerned, there are two types of Olympic athletes – those who come to compete and those who come to win. Neither of these groups come to vacation. Saryee did not deserve to stand with his honorable teammates or among any other proud Olympian.
The International Olympic Committee reserves 1.6 billion dollars for national committees to train and develop their Olympic teams. Yet, all of the Liberian athletes that qualified for the 2012 Olympics were discovered, trained and developed outside of Liberia (with little help from the LNOC).
For many years, you all have had the reputation of attending Olympic Games with more committee members than athletes on your roster. You also have failed to maintain Liberia’s premiere athletic training center, OlymAfrique Village, which leaves me questioning your mission and your ability to fulfill it. Many of your faults have been overlooked, but the fiasco with Levi Saryee — the Judo poser — will not be. I demand better. I want answers.
How did Levi Saryee get to London and how was his fraudulent behavior punished? Where is his public shame and apology? What are you doing to prevent this type of embarrassment from happening again?
Rio is around the corner. I can only hope that you are preparing a competitive Liberian Olympic Team and not planning a tropical Brazilian vacation. It’s bad enough that we have to fight off the negative stigmas of Ebola. Let’s not add “corruption” and “deceit” to the list. Our athletes deserve more. We deserve more.
Let’s step out with our best foot forward and show the world what we’re really made of. Who knows, we may just leave with a medal. In any case, we can stand proud with much to celebrate.
With High Hopes,
*Below are photos from Levi Saryee’s Public Facebook profile