The News
Sunday 25 of February 2024

From Rags to Rio


Members of the Olympic refugee team pose for selfies in front of Christ the Redeemer,photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Members of the Olympic refugee team pose for selfies in front of Christ the Redeemer,photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Each of the athletes has a poignant tale to tell about their personal ordeal that will, hopefully, help humanize the refugee plight with audiences around the globe

This month, a 10-member team of refugees will be competing at the 31st Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a symbol of hope in a world torn by political strife and social unrest.

The team, which is sponsored by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is composed of two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and six runners from Ethiopia and South Sudan.

The refugee Olympians, who were selected by the IOC from 43 possible candidates, all fled violence and persecution in their respective countries and sought refuge in places as far-flung as Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Kenya and Brazil.

The creation of the unprecedented team, which will enter the opening ceremony in the Maracana Stadium ahead of the games’ host, Brazil, under the Olympic flag, is a reflection of the current global migrant crisis, which has become the worst of its kind since the Second World War, with more than 65 million refugees and misplaced persons worldwide.

Choosing to turn the most important international sporting event into a platform to highlight the mounting human catastrophe was a wise move by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which worked closely with the IOC to promote the idea.

Each of the athletes has a poignant and hard-hitting tale to tell about their personal ordeal that will, hopefully, help humanize the refugee plight with audiences around the globe.

Some of the team members have lost their families, others witnessed their villages destroyed, and still others survived being locked in cages.

Their sports provided them with a retreat from their terrible personal tragedies, having been learned or honed in the most primitive of conditions, refugee camps, without the basic equipment or training that most other Olympic athletes enjoy.

No one expects these 10 Olympians to walk away with gold, silver or bronze medals.

But they are alive; they have survived; they have endured the horrors of uprooted homes, armed conflict, hunger, violence and even slavery.

They are the pure physical embodiment of the strongest and noblest aspects of the human spirit, prevailing in the face of the worst of manmade challenges.

And for that, they are champions.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].