As the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) recognises sport’s universality and its power to drive social change and promote a culture of peace, what better time to recognise a group of 10 refugee Olympic athletes who not only made history at last year’s Olympic Games Rio 2016, but have become true ambassadors for the values of sport?
The Refugee Olympic Team – the first of its kind – at last summer’s Games in Rio de Janeiro acted as a symbol of hope and peace for refugees across the globe. They inspired the world with the strength of their human spirit. With billions of TV spectators watching the Opening Ceremony of the Games, they also helped bring to global attention the worldwide refugee crisis.
“The Refugee Olympic athletes were some of the stars of these Olympic Games,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “They were stars in a way that they demonstrated the best of human beings; they demonstrated determination; they demonstrated what you can achieve if you want to. They also demonstrated that they are not simply refugees but that they are human beings; they are athletes who are competing with the athletes of the other 206 National Olympic Committees on an equal playing field.”
Highlighting the power of the Games to promote solidarity and tolerance, Yusra Mardini, a member of the Refugee Olympic Team, added: “We do not speak the same language, we are from different countries, but the Olympic flag unites us all together; and now we are representing 60 million [people] around the world. We want to do our best to show everyone that we can do everything we can for being good athletes and good people.”
Watch here the story of how this team of 10 refugee athletes made Olympic history, and captured the hearts of millions across the world.
Refugee Athletes on the road to Rio and beyond
At the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in October 2015, confronted with the global refugee crisis that has seen an estimated 65.3 million people in the world displaced, IOC President Thomas Bach announced the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team to take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
With the help of the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, the IOC identified 10 athletes, who originally hailed from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, living in forced displacement, and helped them through its Olympic Solidarity programmes to go to the Olympic Games.
Ten months on from the announcement, these 10 refugee athletes were parading in the opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games and competing alongside 11,000 fellow athletes in Brazil.
Beyond the Olympic Games, the IOC continues to support these athletes day by day through its Olympic Solidarity Refugee Athletes Support Programme, to help them to build their future.
“We are supporting them so that they can train, that they can enjoy an education, that they can hopefully one day go to university, that they integrate into the society of their host country, and even one day maybe compete for their host country in the Olympic Games or great Championships,” outlines the IOC President.
The Olympic Solidarity Refugee Athletes Support Programme offers NOCs the opportunity to identify and support a limited number of refugee athletes living in their countries to prepare and participate in high-level competitions. The programme is available to all the NOCs of countries hosting refugees and wishing to join the IOC in its effort to support and protect athletes.
Following the successful participation of the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio, the IOC is working on the definition of the “safe places” programme, as announced by the IOC President at the UN General Assembly in October 2016. In cooperation with the United Nations, this initiative will help improve the quality of life of displaced and disadvantaged children and young people worldwide by developing safe places for them to play sport.
The IDSDP, celebrated each year on 6 April, is an opportunity to highlight how sport can not only promote social development, but can also help unite people and encourage a culture of peace, build trust and self-belief, and establish bridges between groups in conflict. Contributing to building a peaceful and better world through sport is a fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter, and the Olympic Movement implements countless sports activities and initiatives aimed at driving social change every day in every corner of the world.
Join the movement at #sport4betterworld!
Learn more about the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace at: www.olympic.org/idsdp.
For an overview of the IOC’s long-standing partnership with the UN, visit:www.olympic.org/cooperation-wi