Olympic Refugee Team Brings Awareness and Hope to a Worldwide Crisis

This year, 10 refugee athletes will compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, thanks to a new Olympic refugee team. This symbolic act of solidarity brings hope and awareness of the refugee crisis at a critical moment in history. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the total number of refugees worldwide has soared to 65.3 million people —that means there are more forcibly displaced people in the world than ever before in 2016, even more than after the conclusion of World War II.

A New Type of Team

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has long supported refugees — they actively collaborate with both the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations to provide sports activities and training at refugee camps around the world. To further honor their pledge to support athletes, the committee created the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT). Even the most remarkable refugee athletes couldn’t participate in the games without this team because they lack citizenship, but the IOC identified 43 outstanding athletes for the ROT, 10 of whom qualified to compete in Rio. Together, these refugee athletes will start the opening ceremony by marching united behind the Olympic flag.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” IOC President Thomas Bach summarized. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The refugees going to Rio truly represent resiliency and humanity at its finest after going through some of the most devastating conflicts happening across the globe. The conditions in their home countries and their status as stateless refugees set up immense challenges, making it nearly impossible to train as athletes. Now, with the help of paid ROT trainers and a hand-selected entourage, these athletes can compete on the world stage.

“I think anything is possible for me because we are working hard,” Yusra Mardini, Olympic swimmer and Syrian refugee, says. Marathoner Yonas Kinde of Ethiopia echoes Mardini’s optimism and focuses on his passion.

“It’s for the love of the sport. Even if the situation is very difficult, we can have a good result also,” Kinde comments. His situation embodies the challenges of refugee athletes: He’s already won marathons in Europe, but because he lacks citizenship, he would be unable to compete in the Olympic games without the ROT.

As we approach the opening ceremony on August 5, the Olympic refugee team members will make their last preparations for the games alongside the world’s top athletes in the Olympic Village. Undoubtedly, their bravery and dedication will inspire millions to support refugees with compassion in the face of the world’s conflicts.

Image source: Bigstock