What is the Refugee Olympic Team?
By Willow Sylvester
At the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, announced the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team. That UN General Assembly was about one month after the body of 2 year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, was found washed up on the beach and made front pages globally. 2015 was named by UNHCR as “The Year of Europe’s Refugee Crisis,” as a record number of refugees fled to Europe to seek asylum. In 2015, over half a million more applications for asylum or refugee status were submitted by individuals globally than the year before. From Syria alone, there were over one million more Syrian refugees in 2015 than in 2014. The need for representation was more important than ever, so the Refugee Olympic Team was created and competed at the Río Olympics for the first time in 2016. This year, in Tokyo, the team will compete at its second Olympic Games with both new and returning refugee athletes.
The Refugee Olympic Team and the International Olympic Committee hope to send a message of solidarity to the world with the participation of such a diverse team that has faced such adversity. In typical Olympic fashion, differences are overlooked, and all are accepted in the name of coming together and competing on a global stage. During the opening ceremonies this year on July 23, the Refugee Olympic Team even marched second, only after Greece, and before all other national teams, as a powerful display of inclusion and representation. There are over 80 million refugees and displaced persons in the world today, and for the next two weeks, their strength of spirit will be represented in Tokyo.
In order to qualify for the Refugee Olympic Team, athletic performance and confirmed refugee status under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was most important. UNHCR has worked alongside the IOC, advising them on the selection process and how to garner support and respect for the team starting in 2015 to facilitate the best introduction possible for the Refugee Olympic Team into the Olympics. According to the IOC, personal background and identity for purposes of diversity and representation were also considered when constructing the official team of refugee athletes.
In its first year (2016), the Refugee Olympic Team consisted of ten athletes. This year, at the Tokyo Olympics, the Refugee Olympic Team has 29 athletes ready to compete.
Here is a roster of the 2021 Refugee Olympic Team:
Track and Field: Anjelina Nadai Lohalith (South Sudan), Dorian Keletela (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed (Sudan), James Nyang Chiengjiek (South Sudan), Paulo Amotun Lokoro (South Sudan), Rose Nathike Likonyen (South Sudan), Tachlowini Gabriyesos (Eritrea)
Badminton: Aram Mahmoud (Syria)
Boxing: Eldric Sella Rodriguez (Venezuela), Wessam Salamanda (Syria)
Canoe/Kayak Flatwater: Saeid Fazloula (Iran)
Road Cycling: Ahmad Baddredin Wais (Syria), Masoma Ali Zada (Afghanistan)
Judo: Ahmad Alikaj (Syria), Javad Mahjoub (Iran), Muna Dahouk (Syria), Nigara Shaheen (Afghanistan), Popole Misenga (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Sanda Aldass (Syria)
Karate: Hamoon Derafshipour (Iran), Wael Shueb (Syria)
Shooting: Luna Solomon (Eritrea)
Swimming: Yusra Mardini (Syria), Alaa Maso (Syria)
Taekwondo: Abdullah Sediqi (Afghanistan), Dina Pouryounes Langeroudi (Iran), Kimia Alizadeh Zenozi (Iran)
Weightlifting: Cyrille Tchatchet II (Cameroon)
Wrestling: Aker Al Obaidi (Iraq)
You can read more about each athlete’s bio and life story at the official IOC Team Roster here.
Source: Global Citizen
Athletics have always been a source of empowerment for refugees and displaced persons. Many resettled refugees find joining athletic teams in their host towns a great way to help them assimilate to the culture and build a community. It is common for refugees to carry around homemade soccer balls and tennis rackets along their difficult journeys as an activity that they know will help them connect with people along the way and serve as a welcomed distraction. Pro-athletics can also be a source of empowerment for refugees to build a career without requiring an advanced education degree, which many refugees are unable to access. With the Refugee Olympic Team, more people than ever are realizing the strength of refugees, their stories, and their ability to overcome a journey from exile to Olympic trials.
You can support refugee empowerment through athletics by donating to the Olympic Refuge Foundation.