Due to the chaos brought on by the Russian Olympic Team’s doping controversy, the behind-schedule construction and unfinished Olympic village, and the ever imposing threat of the Zika virus, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which begin August 5th, are off to a patchy start. Despite being overshadowed by the negative press surrounding the Games, however, one truly inspiring feat of determination and perseverance has stood out like never before in an Olympic Games: the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT).
National Olympic Committees (NOCs) around the world nominated forty-three potential Olympic-level refugee athletes living in their countries to receive funding from Olympic Solidarity
For the first time, ten refugee athletes will march with the Olympic flag before host nation Brazil at the Opening Ceremony, bringing the world’s attention to the magnitude of the ever-growing refugee crisis and providing a beacon of hope for refugees worldwide.
To fulfill the International Olympic Committee’s pledge to aid elite athletes displaced by the refugee crisis, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) around the world nominated forty-three potential Olympic-level refugee athletes living in their countries to receive funding from Olympic Solidarity, an Olympic Scholarship program which helps disadvantaged athletes train for the Games, to assist with Olympic preparation and qualification efforts.
Ten of these forty-three athletes were then selected to compete in the Games and sport the official Olympic flag after thorough consultation with their NOCs, International Federations, the UNHCR, and the NOCs of their countries of origin. Under the guidance of the Chef de Mission, Olympian Tegla Loroupe, and Deputy Chef de Mission, UNHCR-nominated Isabela Mazão, the ROT will participate and be treated like any other Olympic team, including being welcomed at a private ceremony, housed in the Olympic Village, provided with official Olympic wear, and tested for performance drugs before competition.
the ROT puts a new perspective on what it means to truly defy the odds for a sport and a shot at the Olympic Games
However, the ROT is far from any regular Olympic team. While most Olympic-level athletes have devoted their lives to bettering themselves at their sport, the refugee athletes have only recently been able to spend their time training and focusing on their sporting passion without worrying about fleeing their home countries or dealing with the asylum system of their new countries.
Most Olympic athletes will say that they have given up everything and defied the odds to get where they are today, but the ROT puts a new perspective on what it means to truly defy the odds for a sport and a shot at the Olympic Games.
Take 18-year-old Syrian refugee, Yusra Mardini, for example, whose courage and strength was put to the test while fleeing Syria for Germany in 2015. As her flimsy six-person inflatable raft began to capsize while carrying 20 refugees from Turkey to Greece, she pushed the raft for three hours with three other refugees to safety, saving everyone on board. She joined a swimming club upon arrival in Germany in the Fall of 2015 and was selected for the Olympic team in June 2016, a feat unthinkable less than a year ago as she literally swam for her life neck-deep in the Mediterranean Sea.
And Mardini’s case is is not unique: all ROT members have similar unimaginable stories of fleeing civil wars and evading government corruption to stay alive, and none of them would have ever pictured themselves having the luxury of competing for the ROT today.
To ease their transition into the Games, the international community has shown tremendous support for the ROT, with IOC President Thomas Bach stating, “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. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”
Indeed, these athletes have gone through incomprehensible hardships and tests of personal and mental strength to get where they are now, and deserve every second of their experience in the Olympic spotlight as they bring hope to refugees worldwide.
Refugee Olympic Team:
Rami Anis: Country of origin – Syria; Sport – swimming
Yiech Pur Biel: Country of origin – South Sudan; Sport – athletics, 800m
James Nyang Chiengjiek: Country of origin – South Sudan; Sport – athletics, 400m
Yonas Kinde: Country of origin – Ethiopia; Sport – athletics, marathon
Anjelina Nada Lohalith: Country of origin – South Sudan; Sport – athletics, 1500m
Rose Nathike Lokonyen: Country of origin – South Sudan; Sport – athletics, 800m
Paulo Amotun Lokoro: Country of origin – South Sudan; Sport – athletics, 1500m
Yolande Bukasa Mabika: Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; Sport – judo, -70kg
Yusra Mardini: Country of origin – Syria; Sport – swimming
Popole Misenga: Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; Sport – judo, -90kg