Bearing no team, no country and no nationality, a team of 10 athletes are creating history in Rio Olympics. With refugee crisis being the world’s biggest cause of concern, the International Olympic Committee earlier in march had planned and created a £1.5million training fund to select potential candidates for the ‘refugee team’ of Olympics. They had even shortlisted dozens of candidates for potential selection. Comprising of 10 members from varied nationalities and identities, the ‘refugee team’ has people who have surpassed great tragedies and created a niche for themselves at a world front.
Competing in three sports, the final team has been offered a home in the heart of the Olympic village and they will be train with the best trainers in the world. Five of the refugees are from South Sudan, two fled Syria, two left Congo and one is from Ethiopia. Some of the inspiring stories are listed below.
1. Yusra Mardini, Syria- The 18-year-old swimmer from Syria jumped in the pool and won her heat in the 100m butterfly, though she didn’t progress further. At age 14, she swam for Syria in world championships in 2012 but decided to flee her home because of the civil war in Syria. Her boat from Turkey to Greece started sinking and she jumped into the water and summoning all of her swimming and survival know-how, helped push the boat and its occupants until it safely reached Greek shores. She was quoted as saying, “I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I am a swimmer.” She is now living and training in Germany.
2. Yonas Kinde, Ethopia- He is the oldest member of the team and political, economic difficulties in his homeland made it difficult for him to progress further. After leaving Ethiopia in 2012, he reached Luxembourg and earned his living as a taxi driver. “This chance is special for me,” said Kinde on being chosen for the team in June. “I’ve won many races but I don’t have a nationality to participate.”
3. Yolande Mabika and Popole Misenga, Congo- They participated on behalf of the Congolese judo team in 2013 and decided to flee after seeing their families die in ethnic wars. They both were rescued and admitted into a judo academy in Kinhasa where they both had to face harassment and inhuman conditions. They both said that their coaches would assault them and hold them in cage-like cells if they lost. Sometimes, there would be no food.
4. Tegla Loroupe, Yiech Pur Biel, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, James Chiengjiek and Rose Lokonyen- Kenya- The five come from Kakuma refugee camp. Most of them are either child soldiers or victims of civil war, with no shoes or proper training they were picked by Tegla Loroupe, who is country’s top runner and runs a foundation in her name. There are two female candidates too in this team and she hopes both of them will do exceptionally good.
5. Rami Anis, Syria- He was expected to make Syria’s team for London Olympics in 2012 but bombings in his home-town Aleppo forced him to flee Syria. He was barred from competing in Olympics because of his refugee status and with help from smugglers he made his trip to Greece and Belgium, where he was finally granted asylum in December last year. “This is a dream for any athlete,” Anis told a press conference ahead of the 2016 Games.