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The Refugee Olympic Team: Spreading Hope through Sports


Refugee Olympic TeamFor the first time in history, ten refugee athletes will compete at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, composing the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT). The athletes will march with the official Olympic flag at the opening ceremony. The team has an entourage of five coaches and five team officials, and the Chef de Mission (team leader) of the ROT is Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, who is an Olympian and former marathon record holder.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) plays an active role in refugee aid around the world. For the past 20 years, IOC has funded sport programs and donated equipment to support the healing and development of young children in refugee camps. In 2015, the IOC pledged to assist athletes impacted by the most recent refugee crisis and set up a $2 million refugee fund. In conjunction with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA), the IOC also asked National Olympic Committees from each country to identify refugee athletes who demonstrated potential to qualify for the Rio games in 2016. The IOC received forty three refugee candidates and assisted them in preparation for qualification rounds. In June 2016, the IOC announced the roster for the Refugee Olympic Athletes team, which includes six men and four women.

The Refugee Olympic Team will draw much needed international attention to the current refugee crisis, which involves the largest recorded number- 59.5 million – of displaced individuals in history. The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, explains the important message that ROT will communicate: “It is a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and an enrichment to society… despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.” Bach is optimistic that the team will be a “message of hope for all refugees in our world.”

The Refugee Olympic Team Athletes:

Refugee Olympic TeamRami Anis (M): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Belgium; sport – swimming; age- 25

Born in Aleppo, Syria, Rami Anis has a fiery passion for swimming. As a young boy, he drew inspiration from his uncle who swam competitively for Syria. But in 2011, Anis was forced to flee his city due to violence, bombings and kidnappings. At 20 years old, Rami joined his older brother in Istanbul, unaware that he would not be returning to his home. “I thought I would be in Turkey for a couple of months and then return to my country.” Yet his love of swimming never ceased, and in Istanbul Anis trained at the world renowned Galatasaray Sports Club. However, without Turkish citizenship, Rani was not eligible to swim competitively. Determined and unwavering, Anis fled Turkey alone aboard a small, inflatable dinghy on the Mediterranean to pursue his dream. He made his way from Greece to Belgium where he was eventually granted asylum in 2015. Anis joined the Royal Ghent Swimming Club of Belgium, where his talent and tenacity won him a spot on the unprecedented Refugee Olympic Team.

“I hope that at 2020 there will be no refugee team as I hope for all wars to end so all athlete[s] will be able to compete in the name of their country.” –Rami Anis

Check out Rami Anis here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNd46CTXbD4

Refugee Olympic TeamYiech Pur Biel (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m; age- 21

Born in Nasir, a small town in South Sudan, Yiech Pur Biel escaped home at the age of 10 to avoid the violent civil war that ravaged his village. On his own, Biel made the arduous trek to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, where he joined hundreds of thousands of displaced people also settled in Kakuma. Biel lived in the crowded and undersupplied camp for ten years before turning to competitive running, which he started just over a year ago. Despite the lack of training facilities, no shoes, and the constant, blazing heat, Biel practiced running because it gave him a sense of belonging. In 2015, Biel heard about Olympic trials being held in Kakuma by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, a foundation named after the Kenyan Olympian and world champion marathon runner. Although he had never run competitively before in his life, Biel competed in the trials and earned a spot on the ROT, along with three other South Sudanese runners.

“Even if I don’t get gold or silver, I will show the world that, as a refugee, you can do something.” – Yiech Pur Biel

Check out Biel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkk22vCeUsk

Yusra Mardini (F): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming; age – 18

Native to Damascus, Syria, Yusra Mardini is a talented swimmer who, while still in Syria, trained with the Syrian Olympic Committee and competed for Syria at the 2012 world championships. However, when her home was destroyed in the Syrian Civil War, Mardini and her sister fled the conflict ridden country. Journeying through Lebanon refugee camps, the sisters hoped to escape to Europe for a new life. They found an overcrowded boat to take them from Turkey to Greece, but during the trip, in the middle of the night, the engine failed and the boat began to flood. Only Mardini, her sister and two of the other twenty migrants aboard knew how to swim, so the four dove into the cold Mediterranean and pushed the boat all the way to the Greek Island of Lesbos, which took around three and a half hours. Despite the challenging and stressful journey, Mardini remembers the night on the boat in a positive light, “without swimming I would never be alive.” The sisters eventually arrived in Berlin, where Mardini resumed her swim training and was chosen as a member of the ROT. Mardini feels like she is living “a dream come true.”

In competing in the Rio Games, Mardini hopes to destigmatize her status and “show the world refugee is not a bad word.”

Check Mardini out here: https://youtu.be/1REQm6TIBR0

In all, the refugee team is a symbol that people, as a whole, must work together; regardless of situations in life, we are all equal and have the right to be seen, heard, and acknowledged simply by being part of the human race. We at CAI wish the Refugee team and all other athletes the best in the games!

For information on the additional athletes, click here.