Refugees have and continue to overcome difficulties that much of the world could not imagine. However, some joy has come to those displaced by tragedy after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) selected ten athletes to comprise the first Refugee Olympic Team at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
In fact, the Olympics are being broadcast to a refugee camp in Kenya, one that houses 200,000 refugees, including half of the members of this team.
Those five athletes, all of whom hail from South Sudan, were selected after trials were held there while the other half of the team is comprised of athletes originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Syria who are living in Belgium, Brazil, Germany, and Luxembourg. National Olympic Committees around the world helped identify possible team members living within their borders.
These athletes were not only chosen for their athletic abilities but also their refugee status and “personal situation and background.” The IOC put forth $2 million to help identify and train them.
The emotions emanating from these proud athletes is generally bittersweet. Rami Anis, a Syrian swimmer living in Belgium, said after competing that this is “a dream come true for me, and I don’t want to wake up from that dream,” but he also followed that up with wistfulness related to being unable to compete for Syria. “There is nothing nearer and dearer to my heart than the homeland.”
Although none of the athletes are serious medal contenders, a couple have received some international attention. Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer living in Germany, become known for using her swimming skills for more important reasons to help push a boat carrying a boat of refugees. During the Olympic Games, Popole Misenga, a judoka from DR Congo who lives in Brazil, received attention after defeating an athlete from India in his first match before being eliminated from the competition by one from South Korea.
A refugee team will take part in the Paralympics, which are scheduled for Sept. 7-18. Nothing has been decided as far as future Olympiads go, but one would imagine that continuing this into future years will be seriously considered.