The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last March defined a plan to create a team of refugee athletes to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer Olympics, a scheme first announced at the United Nations (UN) in October, as record numbers of migrants and refugees fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. IOC President Thomas Bach has today revealed the names of the 10 athletes who will represent the nation-less team called Team Refugee Olympic Athletes, or Team ROA.
“By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, we want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world,” said Bach.
The team of ten includes one athlete from Ethiopia, two each from Syria and Congo, and five from South Sudan, who will compete in judo, swimming, and track and field events. Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini was on an overcrowded dinghy headed to the Greek Island of Lesbos when its motor failed. She and her sister jumped into the Aegean Sea, and for three hours swam along the boat, pushing it closer to shore. The teen already deserves Gold.
Team ROA will have the same experience as the other 11,000 Olympians: marching as a unit in the Open Ceremony in specially designed uniforms, and staying in the Olympic Village where an entourage of coaches, trainers, and personal chefs will support their every need. Team ROA will use the Olympic flag and Olympic anthem for official appearances and any medal ceremonies that they take part in.
Earlier this year, National Olympic Committees (NOC) identified refugee athletes with the potential to qualify for the Olympic Games as part of IOC’s commitment to assisting elite athletes experiencing official United Nations refugee status. Forty-three candidates were identified, from which the 10 were chosen. They include:
• Rami Anis (M): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Belgium; sport – swimming
• Yiech Pur Biel (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m
• James Nyang Chiengjiek (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 400m
• Yonas Kinde (M): Country of origin – Ethiopia; host NOC – Luxembourg; sport – athletics, marathon
• Anjelina Nada Lohalith (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m
• Rose Nathike Lokonyen (F): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 800m
• Paulo Amotun Lokoro (M): Country of origin – South Sudan; host NOC – Kenya; sport – athletics, 1500m
• Yolande Bukasa Mabika (F): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -70kg
• Yusra Mardini (F): Country of origin – Syria; host NOC – Germany; sport – swimming
• Popole Misenga (M): Country of origin – Democratic Republic of the Congo; host NOC – Brazil; sport – judo, -90kg
Olympic events are usually clouded by charges of dubious development that displaces economically challenged communities, political intrigue, and budget overruns in the race to complete critical infrastructure. This year we are learning about results from blood sample retests that reveal widespread Olympian doping practices that will strip historical medals and ban athletes from future competition.
The Rio Games are tainted by concerns that the city’s water supply is heavily polluted with human waste, and growing fears over the Zika virus – with 150 health professionals publicly asking for the games to be moved or postponed. Ironic that refugees have become the good news angle.
For the past two decades, the IOC – a not-for-profit independent international organisation made up of volunteers – has used sport as a vehicle for positive development among young refugees in camps and settlements around the world, establishing sports programs, providing coaches and trainers, facilities and equipment.
Images of IOC President Thomas Bach, Yusra Mardini and Popole Misenga from the IOC