Hope for All: Inside the Olympic Refugee Community

FILE - IN this Feb. 15, 2021, file photo, Rohingya refugees headed to the Bhasan Char island prepare to board navy vessels from the south eastern port city of Chattogram, Bangladesh. The United Nations said Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, that a group of Rohingya refugees is adrift in a boat in the Andaman Sea without food or water, and that their families are worried that many may have already died. (AP Photo, File)

About the Refugee Olympic Team

Millions of people displaced. Families, training facilities and futures torn apart. Hopes reduced to rubble.

This is how the global refugee crisis looks. According to the United Nations (UN), approximately 80 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2019. This is nearly double the number a decade ago (UN News, 2020, June 18). But a committee of people is turning that around at one of the world’s biggest sports events.

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) created the Refugee Olympic Team. The goal is to bring hope to millions of refugees around the world. Often left with nothing but the clothes on their backs due to war or violence, they must find new homes. In addition, for athletes this often means new host countries.

The Olympic Refugee Team walks at the Opening Ceremony in Rio. (Paul Gilham / Getty Images)

This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the 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.

Thomas Bach, IOC President

Olympic.org, 2016, June 3

Successes in Rio and the Future

At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, ten refugees competed alongside 11,000 other athletes. Through the Refugee Athlete Support Program, refugee athletes train for the Olympics. They also get help with their future careers.

After the success of the Refugee Olympic Team in the 2016 Olympics, a second team will be formed for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. However, this year’s refugee crisis brings new challenges with the pandemic and the resulting global economic crisis. Thanks to the IOC, 55 refugees from 13 countries have scholarships and are training in hopes of being chosen for the new team. Click here to view the full roster.

Meet Olympic Refugee Hopefuls

Because of the team, athletes have a chance and representation after their dreams (literally) turn to rubble. Alaa Maso is a current refugee athlete scholarship-holder. Maso left after conflict in Syria in 2015 and damage to his training facilities. Now he is looking at a chance to swim in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Another Olympic hopeful, Masomah Ali Zada, is working towards her goal of road cycling in the 2021 Olympics. Originally from Afghanistan, she found refuge in Germany and competes around the world. In addition to her strength, she brings hope and inspiration. “By taking part in the Olympic Games, I want to convince those who think a woman on a bicycle is inappropriate or find it strange that a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf is a cyclist that no, it’s normal.” said Zada at the Paris Match (Knowles, 2021, January 9).

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