Ethiopian marathon runner Feyisa Lilesa, who made headlines at the 2016 Rio Olympics on Sunday for an act of protest while crossing the finish line, will not return to his home country over fears of reprisal.
Lilesa, who won the silver medal, was not on board the flight carrying Ethiopia's Olympic contingent to the country's capital, Addis Ababa, Monday night, Agence France-Presse reported. Ethiopian officials neither mentioned his medal — one of the country's eight at the games — nor answered any questions about him.
The 26-year-old athlete crossed his arms above his head at the finish line on Sunday and did so again at a postrace awards ceremony, a gesture used to condemn the government's violent crackdown on protests in the East African nation's Oromo region, from where he hails. The Ethiopian government subsequently said Lilesa would be given a hero's welcome and not face any punishment, but he is apparently taking no chances, with reports suggesting he may try to seek asylum in the U.S.
"He doesn’t want to go to Ethiopia, he wants to go to another country," the runner's agent, Federico Rosa, told the New York Times. "I don't know even when he decided to do this," he added.
The Internet has rallied behind Lilesa, with a crowdfunding campaign raising more than $100,000 for him.
"You don’t do something like this for money," Rosa said. "He did this to defend his country.”