The Rio Olympics are doing their part to shine a light on the world refugee crisis by including a team of 10 athletes who are refugees. This team consists of four women and six men who “have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem” according to Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee. The idea is to show the world that “despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through talent, skills and the strength of human spirit.”
I applaud the Olympic Committee for including a team of refugee athletes. Although the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) members may not have a country they can call home right now, we must remember that refugees are still people. They had families and jobs and hopes and fears. While many refugees have been separated from their families, they still have dreams, worries, relatives, and skills. These particular refugees were extremely talented athletes before they were forced to leave their homes. Now, they can continue to play the sports they love at the biggest international event of the year.
The Refugee Olympic Team will live in the Olympic Village with all the other teams and they will walk immediately before host-nation Brazil’s team at the Opening Ceremony. They will march along to the Olympic anthem with the Olympic flag. The ten ROT members will be competing in swim, track & field, and judo. Each one of these ROT members has an incredible story of perseverance, strength, and most important, hope. For example, 18-year-old Yusra Mardini and her sister, Sarah, fled their home country – Syria – and made it to Turkey where they got on a small dinghy to make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. However, within 30 minutes, the motor stopped and the boat almost flipped over. Yusra, Sarah, and one other woman jumped into the water and pushed the boat to the shore. Now, 2 years later, Yusra will swim in Rio at the Olympics with 9 other refugees from around the world: Rami Anis (swim), Yiech Pur Biel (800m), James Nyang Chiengjiek (400m), Yonas Kinde (marathon), Anjelina Nada Lohalith (1500m), Rose Nathike Lokonyen (800m), Paulo Amotun Lokoro (1500m), Yolande Bukasa Mabika (judo), and Popole Misenga (judo).
These 10 athletes have had experiences that are unimaginable to me – to have to leave one’s home and make difficult and often times dangerous journeys around the globe is not something that many of us can relate to. I’m happy that there is a team of refugees, and I think including this team of 10 athletes sends a clear message to the world. In the words of Yusra, “it would show that even if we had a tough journey, we can achieve something.”
I’ll be rooting for the Refugee Olympic Team along with Team USA this year, and I hope you’ll join me.