Today • • 21 July

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Journey to the Olympics: The Refugee Olympic Team

For the past week, the news surrounds only one big event – the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

After the delay and uncertainties surrounding the games, it finally happened on 23rd July 2021.

One team though, might have caught your attention. 

The Refugee Olympic Team. 

This year is the second time the team will be competing. The 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil had been the first time the team competed. Since then, the team has almost tripled in size – from 10 to 29 members, comprising athletes from 11 countries living and training in 13 host countries. 

The first announcement of the formation of the team was back in October 2015 at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, where International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach announced the creation of the team for the Rio Olympic Games 2016.

The 10 athletes who competed in 2016 came from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

At the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games, the IOC Refugee Team marched behind the flag not of a nation, but of the Olympics themselves.

Following the success of the 2016 Team, the IOC decided to enter an IOC Refugee Team for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

These athletes are hand-picked from the refugees supported by the IOC, through the Olympic Scholarships for Refugee Athletes program. 

The athletes originated from Syria, South Sudan, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela and Cameroon. Many of these countries are currently in the middle of a conflict or even civil wars, making the situation too dangerous for the athletes to return home.

The team represents 12 different sports – athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, taekwondo, sport of shooting, swimming, weightlifting and wrestling. 

This year also marks the first year that there is a Refugee Paralympic Team. 

The team is a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide, bringing global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis that affects over 82 million displaced people worldwide. 

“Most of the refugees lacked the right to compete,”

Olivier Niamkey, IOC’s deputy chief of mission for the refugee program

For these athletes, they have no flag to compete under. The team serves as a reminder that in a competition that celebrates nations and wins, we are still reminded of the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has led millions to be displaced. And yet here they are, competing in one of the most prestigious sports competitions, illustrating the incredible talent of already extraordinary people who have gone through so much.

Proving that ‘anything is possible through sports’.

If you would like to help the refugee community in any way, you can visit our Care for Refugees project for more information.  At Global Ehsan Relief, we aim to deliver aid and development programs to those who need it most in an efficient and effective way without prejudice to people’s religion, sex, age or ethnic background.