Refugee athletes to show world their transformed lives

Rio de Janeiro, July 31 (IANS) Yusra Mardini and her teammates from the first ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) said that bearing the Olympic flag in the upcoming Rio Games is a life-changing opportunity.

“It’s absolutely an honour for me to compete in Olympics. It’s all athletes’ dream,” said the Syria origin, who will attend the women’s 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle swimming in Rio 2016, on Saturday.

“I want to send a message not only to refugees in Syria but those all over the world that you have to move on since life has to continue even though your country is broken,” added the 18-year-old who was received by Germany after the war in Syria intensified in 2015 and has been since training at a German club in Berlin.

Ten refugees, including Yusra, will participate in the Rio Olympic Games under the Olympic flag as the International Olympic Committee formed the unique team for athletes that have fled conflict-riven countries and regions, reports Xinhua.

The team includes five runners from South Sudan, two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a marathon runner from Ethiopia, besides five coaches and five other officials.

“It’s a special team. It’s not an easy team,” said Tegla Loroupe, the ROT’s chef de mission. “Although their country is broken, the spirit of unity and of Olympism is always with them.”

Talking about how sports make changes to life, the former marathon world record holder of Kenya said: “I was able to open my eyes through sports and made to have faith in others. I was also through sports to become successful.”

“It was sports that give them wisdom and confidence to fight for life and not to lose hope,” she added.

Yusra’s fellow Syrian Rami Anis is to participate in the men’s 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle in Rio. He admitted that it’s a little bit sad not able to compete under his country’s flag but he’s very proud to compete in the ROT.

“I want to represent a good image of refugees by competing here, and I hope in Tokyo 2020 there’s no longer refugees and we all compete under our own flag,” said the 25-year-old who left Syria five years ago when the war started and moved to Belgium in late 2015.

“We felt really sad about the war in our country but we did not give up on sports,” he said. “I hope all refugee athletes continue their training as the Olympic committee and the whole international society provide them the supports they need.”

Yolande Mabika, a judoka from Democratic Republic of the Congo, echoed that she’s living a dream of able to compete in Olympics after going through struggles for life.

“We are going to show that refugees are able to do everything other people do all around the world,” said the 28-year-old who called back memories of crying out when she got to know that her name was among refugee athletes for the Rio Games.

The other judoka of the refugees team, Popole Misenga, also from DR Congo, told reporters that he never thought he’d have the chance to represent refugees in Olympic Games.

“Sports have transferred my life,” said the 24-year-old who separated from his family at just nine years old. “Today I come out representing Refugees Olympic Team and everybody cheers for me. Thank God I’m part of the team. The Olympic Committee made it happen.”

His coach Geraldo Bernardes, former coach of the Brazilian judo team from 1979 to 2000 praised the refugee athletes “not just champions for sport but champions for life”.

“It’s an honour for me to coach such a special team,” said the 73-year-old Brazilian. “As people transfer their lives through sports, we’ll support them to receive better training.”

IOC president Thomas Bach first presented the idea of forming a refugee team last October in his presentation in the headquarters of the United Nations, saying the initiative would send a powerful message of hope to asylum seekers around the world.

“It is a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society,” he said.

“These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”



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