PHNOM, PENH – Japan-born comedian Hiroshi Neko, Cambodia’s pick to represent it in the Olympic marathon in London this summer, has been rejected by the world ruling body for track and field, which says he is not yet eligible to represent the Southeast Asian nation.
The rejection by the International Association of Athletics Federations was conveyed in a letter to Pen Vuthy, secretary general of the Khmer Amateur Athletes Federation. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by Kyodo News.
It says Neko “will be eligible to represent Cambodia in international competitions under IAAF rules starting from Oct. 18, 2012,” suggesting he is ineligible before that date.
Neko, 34, whose real name is Kuniaki Takizaki, was born in Japan and became a naturalized Cambodian citizen in late 2011 after competing in international half-marathons in the country, and winning many local fans.
The letter was in response to Phnom Penh’s request last month for Neko to represent Cambodia, explaining he has been residing and doing business in the country since 2009, has never been an athlete for Japan and became a marathon runner when he first competed in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon in 2010, where he finished third.
Cambodia also claimed Neko is the best Cambodian long-distance runner registered and accepted by the KAAF.
Vath Chamroeun, secretary general of Cambodia’s Olympic committee, which oversees the KAAF, told Kyodo News: “we are not going to protest or request anything more on Neko’s status for the international marathon there, but will send someone else. That will be decided soon.”
The IAAF has from this year implemented new rules pertaining to athletes with new nationalities and no previous experience representing their adopted country in international competitions.
One of the rules stipulates that in the event at least one year has not passed since the athlete gained nationality, the athlete must be given special permission by the IAAF executive committee.
The IAAF letter obtained by Kyodo News said, “The IAAF Council is of the opinion that the merits of this case are not of an exceptional nature and do not provide a basis for the reduction or the cancellation of the waiting period.”
Last year, Neko came in second in the first international half-marathon in Phnom Penh.