Refugee Athletes Arrive in Rio to Compete under the Olympic Flag
August 8, 2016
Annalisa Merelli / Quartz & NBC Nightly News & Niyazi G. Atay / Al Monitor
For the first time in Olympic history, refugee teams from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo will participate at the games in Rio, representing not only the people from each of these countries, but the 65 million people displaced by war and persecution. Having overcome unimaginable hardships on their way to Rio, all ten of these athletes share an ardent desire that their refugee status not define them. They are in Rio as competitors.
War, Refugees and the Olympics
Refugee Athletes Arrive in Rio to Compete under the Olympic Flag.
The Rio Olympics Finally Represents the Whole World,
Including Millions of War Refugees with no Country
Annalisa Merelli / Quartz
(August 5, 2016) -- "The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity," reads one of the fundamental principles of Olympism, also known as the philosophy of the Olympic games.
Time and again, the Olympic games have served to reflect and even amplify this spirit. It has allowed people to represent their countries -- even if they weren't officially recognized by their neighbors or members of the United Nations. This year Kosovo, still officially part of Serbia, will make its Olympic debut with eight athletes after the IOC recognized its bid for independent status.
Chinese Taipei, a nation more traditionally known as Taiwan, will participate in Rio with 59 athletes under a cloud of controversy. Palestine, which has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995, is bringing six athletes to Brazil.
The Olympics also lets athletes participate despite the sins or mistakes of their home country. In Rio, for instance, swimmer Faye Sultan, a native of Kuwait, will participate as an independent athlete after her country was banned by the IOC.
But this summer, one group's participation will doubtless outshine even Kosovo's historic inclusion. The first ever refugee team will participate at the games in Rio, representing not a country, but the 65 million people displaced (internally, or outside their country) by war and persecution.
The ten athletes represent Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Despite overcoming unimaginable hardships on their way to Rio, all of the athletes share an ardent desire that their refugee status not define them.
"We still are humans," said Yusra Mardini, 18, a heroic swimmer from Syria who last year helped drag a sinking boat full of fellow refugees to safety. "We are not only refugees, we are like everyone in the world."
Mardini's fellow athletes will be Rami Anis from Syria, a swimmer; runners Yiech Pur Biel, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, James Nyang Chiengjiek, and Rose Nathike Lokonyen (also the flag bearer), all originally from South Sudan; judokas Yolande Bukasa Mabika and Popole Misenga, originally from the DRC; and Yonas Kinde, a runner originally from Ethiopia.
Mardini will be the first of the refugee delegation to compete, on August 6, and Kinde will be last, competing in the marathon. Here is their full schedule.
Tonight, as these world-class athletes march under the neutral banner of the Olympic flag, we should remember what they represent: that refugees are not a monolithic group, nor are they helpless. Like everyone else competing in Rio, these are strong, high achieving individuals who won't let anything stop them -- not violence, not a lack of means, not even war.
Tonight they march on behalf of millions of people who are hardly ever afforded the dignity or the respect they deserve. At last, the entire world will be cheering them on.
Meet the Syrian Refugee Who
Swam for Her Life to Become an Olympian
NBC Nightly News
(August 5, 2016) -- Last year, Yusra Mardini swam for three hours to push a sinking refugee boat to shore, saving everyone on board. Now, she'll compete on the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team.
Despite War, Syrian Athletes Ready for Olympics
Niyazi G. Atay / Al Monitor
(August 5, 2016) -- Syria's Olympic athletes have faced incredible challenges preparing for the international competition during wartime, yet the obstacles have had a positive effect on their morale and psychological well-being, at least according to one prominent sports official.
The hardships of the war and the risks the athletes have taken just to access training facilities have increased their determination and commitment to Olympic achievement, according to Muwaffaq Jomaa, the president of the General Sports Federation of Syria (GSFS).
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Jomaa noted the seven members of Syria's Olympic team will compete in five events: track and field, swimming, weightlifting, judo and table tennis. In addition, 11 athletes will compete in the Paralympic Games in September.
Two young swimmers who fled Syria will be participating as part of the Refugee Olympic Team. Syria's five-year-long civil war has had a huge impact on many countries in the Middle East, as Syrian refugees fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and European Union countries, making it a global issue.
The crisis has not only led to external and internal displacement of millions of people and physical devastation of the country, but also has weakened Syrian arts and culture as well as the Syrian Olympic movement.
As the war continues, athletes will compete under the Olympic motto "Citius, Altius, Fortius" (Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger"); they will represent the main message of the games, which is peace for all people regardless of their gender, race, beliefs and ideology.
The Olympic flame will be lit August 5 at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Stadium, despite political conflicts in the Middle East and international terrorism that show no indication of being ameliorated in the near future.
In addition to difficult and sometimes dangerous training conditions, Syrian athletes had difficulty obtaining visas to participate in foreign leagues in some European countries, Ibrahim Abu Zayd, the head of the Syrian Olympic delegation, told Al-Monitor.
Some European countries did allow for preseason training, but "nonetheless, it was not enough -- even though we have skillful athletes, which is proved by official invitations" received from the International Olympic Committee, Zayn said.
He said that Ghufran Almohammad, Mohamad Kasem and Heba Allejji will compete in the 400-meter hurdles, judo and table tennis, respectively. Kasem is very determined. "I will give my best efforts, in line with Syria's reputation in judo, despite the existence of tough and well-trained rivals," he told Al-Monitor.
Syrian high jumper Majd Eddin Ghazal, who achieved the best jump at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Challenge in Beijing in May, will be Syria's Olympic flag bearer in Rio.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Ghazal also highlighted problems in obtaining visas to European countries for training and competitions. He said, "We had to avoid these obstacles as much as we could and instead we focused on training inside the country" most of the time. He added that he was recently able to attend a series of training sessions in Schengen countries, including Spain, Monaco and Hungary.
"I will carry the flag of the Syrian Arab Republic on behalf of my country; it is a matter of pride for me to present my appreciation to the leadership of the GSFS, which nominated me to this task. But I do not want to turn the subject into political rivalry with any other party, because I am an athlete before anything else," he said.
Swimmer Baean Jouma, who will compete in the 50-meter freestyle event, also emphasized that she is proud to represent her country in the Olympics, which she noted is the dream of any athlete in the world.
Despite the challenges of training during the war, she believes she is relatively well-prepared. She was able to attend a four-month training camp in Russia, where she competed in a Russian swimming championship. She told Al-Monitor, "It is truly difficult to promise that I will get a medal, as new scores appear every now and then -- but I will do my best by all means."
Syrian weightlifter Man Asaad, who has qualified to be ranked among the top 10 weightlifters at the Rio Olympics, said in an interview with Al-Monitor that he will give his best effort to compete despite the complexities of representing Syria because of the ongoing political conflict.
The Syrian athletes know that, depsite the setbacks, it is important for them to represent their country at the biggest sports event in the world. In the coming weeks, we will see whether they can add at least one more medal to Syria's all-time tally, which currently stands at three -- one each in bronze, silver and gold.
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