This Olympic games we have two teams to cheer for – the Australians and the Refugees.
Australia has got off to a roaring start in this year’s Rio Olympics. But while it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill and competitiveness of the games, it’s also an excellent opportunity to reflect on the very question – What’s the point? The Olympics is a unique event when countries can put aside their differences and we unite to celebrate the achievements of extraordinary individuals.
The year 2016 marks the first time in which the stateless are offered the chance to compete amongst the best of the best. Earlier this year the International Olympic Committee declared that they would choose a group of five to ten refugees to compete under the Olympic flag. A fund of US$2 million was created by the International Olympic Committee to cover training for the elected athletes.
Of the estimated 65 million people currently displaced in the world, the Committee elected the ten following athletes for the Refugee Team.
Rami Anis – the swimmer from Syria
Rami is 25 years old and comes from Aleppo in Syria, where he started swimming from the age of 14. As the war in Syria intensified, his family was forced to flee to Istanbul. He continued his training but was unable to compete at a national level due to not being a Turkish national. He later moved to Greece before finally seeking asylum in Belgium. He hopes that in 2020 he can return to the Olympics and represent Syria, his home country.
Yiech Pur Biel - the runner from South Sudan
Yiech fled Sudan by himself during the civil war and settled in a Kenyan refugee camp. He only began running a year ago when he started playing football with other refugees in the camp.
“Even if I will not get gold or silver but I will show the world that being a refugee, you can do something.”
Yolande Bukasa Mabika - the judoka from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Yolande remembers little about being separated from her parents and escaping the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She was transported to the capital of Kinshaha and was placed in a centre for displaced children. It was here that she was introduced to judo and fell in love with the sport.
“I got separated from my family and used to cry a lot. I started with judo to have a better life.”
James Nyang Chiengjiek - the 800m runner from South Sudan
James fled southern Sudan when he was just 13 to avoid rebel kidnappings. He fled to Kenya where he settled in a refugee camp, attended school and began running.
“My dream is to get good results at the Olympics and also to help people. Because I have been supported by someone, I also want to support someone.”
Yusra Mardini - the swimmer from Syria
Yusra was training to be a swimmer when war tore her home city apart. At 18 years old, she was forced to flee Syria with her sister. They traveled through Lebanon and Turkey before trying to reach Greece. The undersized boat failed on the journey and both Yusra and her sister were forced to swim for 3 hours to safety. She has since resettled in Berlin. Amazingly, Yusra won her swimming heat on Saturday – an enormous feat for any athlete.
Rose Nathike Lokonyen - the runner from South Sudan
Rose left South Sudan when she was ten years old and has lived in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya ever since. She began running when she was at school where she would regularly run ten kilometre distances barefoot.
“My dream, my first priority, is to help my parents and my siblings and then after that to help my fellow refugees.”
Yonas Kinde – the marathon runner from Ethiopia
At 36-years-old, Yonas is the eldest member of the refugee team. He fled Ethiopia and currently lives under special protection in Luxembourg. Yonas is both a taxi driver and a marathon runner having won numerous titles in Luxembourg, France and Germany.
“I left my country because of political problems… There are many difficulties, morally, economically and it’s very difficult to be an athlete.”
Anjelina Nadai Lohalith – the runner from South Sudan
Anjelina fled South Sudan when she was six-years-old and has not seen her parents since. When she was 21, Anjelina settled in a Kenyan refugee camp. Finding and helping her family is her main motivation coming into the Olympics.
Popole Misenga - the judoka from the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Popole fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo at nine years of age. His mother was killed in the fighting and he was separated from his family. Eight days after fleeing, he was rescued and taken to a centre for displaced children in the capital city. He later fled and gained refugee status in Brazil.
“I want to be part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team to keep dreaming, to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them. I want to show that refugees can do important things.”
Paulo Amotun Lokoro - the 1500m runner from South Sudan
Paulo was a cattle herder on his family’s farm when he fled his village in South Sudan. When he was reunited with his mother in a Kenyan refugee camp he took up running as a way to keep himself occupied.
“I know I am racing on behalf of refugees. I was one of those refugees there in the camp and I have reached somewhere special.”
These ten extraordinary athletes are the true definition of inspiration. Defying all odds and overcoming such difficult circumstances speaks so loudly of the power in human ambition. The inclusion of the Refugee Team in this year’s Olympics Games represents a step closer to equal opportunity for people torn away from their homes. But there’s still a long way to go. Hopefully, by the 2020 games there’ll be no need for a refugee team as each family will have a place to call home.