Racism may lie behind attack on athlete

GARDAÍ in Limerick who were yesterday investigating a serious assault on a champion Ethiopian athlete have not ruled out a racist motive.

They also want to find out why the attack was not reported to gardaí.

Lebeta Debela, 22, who won the Limerick half-marathon last May, was knocked unconscious while out running on Knockalisheen Road.

He has been living at the refugee centre on Knockalisheen Road since April 2009.

After being viciously attacked by two men, Mr Debela was taken to the Mid-Western Regional Hospital. He was allowed home after treatment.

The assault happened last Thursday afternoon as he was on his way to meet other members of Limerick AC for a training session.

Supt Frank O’Brien from Henry Street Gardaí Station said they only became of the attack yesterday and were concerned that a serious assault should be carried out on any person, especially a foreign national.

“We would be very concerned about a serious assault. If there was a racist undertone to it, that would be a particularly distressing and worrying development, if this victim was targeted because of his race. We are very anxious to try and identify the culprits.”

Supt O’Brien said they had no report of the attack on the Garda Pulse System and they will try and ascertain why they did not receive a report or complaint.

Supt O’Brien said: “We have got our ethnic liaison people to meet with the victim.”

Paddy O’Connell, PRO of Limerick Athletic Club, said Mr Debela was an outstanding athlete and had won the Limerick half-marathon and the county road and cross-country championships this year.

Mr O’Connell said: “He was running on the road and moved in to let a car pass. As he did so two fellows attacked him and he was knocked unconscious.

“Somebody rang for an ambulance and he was brought to hospital. Lebeta was on his way to meet other club athletes at Shelbourne Park for training.”

Mr O’Connell said he was not aware of any racial motive for the attack, but said the athlete had nothing other than his running gear on him at the time.

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