For the first time in the history of the games, a team of 10 will make up the Refugee Olympic Team. Two Syrian Swimmers, five runners from South Sudan and two judo practitioners from the Democratic Republic of Congo will represent refugees all over the world as they march under the olympic flag at the opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro on Friday 5th August.
James Chiengjiek, who fled the conflict in Sudan, sees this as an unprecedented initiative that transmits a strong message of support and hope for refugees worldwide. At a press conference, he said:
“I think it is a good moment for all the refugees, not only people who are participating because as we all know, we are representing the millions of refugees all over the world and it is a chance to show the refugees also that they can do something,”
18-year-old Swimmer Yusra Mardini is preparing to compete in the 100-metre butterfly and 100-metre freestyle. Since fleeing the war in Syria, Yusra has lived in Germany where she benefits from refugee status. She told reporters:
“This is a really great feeling because all of them have the same strong feeling about never giving up and they did a lot to reach here. They have a lot of bad situations happen with them and with us and we continued because we have dreams.”
At the opening ceremony, these ten athletes will march with the Olympic flag as their backdrop, immediately before their host country, Brazil.
A similar process was used for the first time at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona for 494 athletes from 12 former USSR nations. This meant that athletes who come from countries in transition or turmoil still had the chance to compete.
In 2000 in Sydney, four athletes from East Timor marched under the olympic flag and in 2012 in London, 3 athletes from the former Antilles and one from South Sudan did the same.
If they win, the athletes will accept their medals to the sound of the Olympic anthem. Their hope is that their message of peace will resonate throughout the world inspiring other refugees and perhaps even helping put an end to the conflicts in their home countries. They represent an unprecedented number of displaced people and asylum seekers. In 2014 The UN Refugee Agency put the number at 59.5 million and it has been on the rise ever since.