Twenty-nine athletes make up the International Olympic Committee Refugee Team. This contingent will compete in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo which will open on 23 July. As VOA journalist Laurel Bowman reports, this is the second time in history that a team of refugee athletes will compete in the grand sporting event.
The 29 athletes who joined the Refugee Team at this year’s Olympics came from 11 countries, including South Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Cameroon and Iraq.
Tegla Laroupe, the leader of the contingent said, “For the 29 athletes I lead, I don’t think we will lose a medal. We also have judo athletes from Brazil. There are also female athletes from Iran who have won medals in taekwondo.”
The 29 athletes will compete in 12 sports, from swimming and boxing to badminton and weightlifting.
Rose Nathike Likonyen, a refugee athlete from South Sudan, said, “My wish for all refugee athletes is to do their best and also send a message of hope to all refugees around the world because they represent the refugee community in the world.”
The contingent that will compete in Tokyo is selected from refugee athletes who are currently supported by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through a scholarship program. The IOC said it hoped the contingent would draw attention to the plight of the more than 80 million refugees around the world.
IOC President Thomas Bach explained, “This is a message to the whole world to make the world aware of the magnitude of this crisis, which is growing every day. It is also a message that these displaced people are enriching our entire society.”
That is also the view of the athletes. Among those who said so was Alaa Maso, a refugee athlete from Syria.
“Showing the world that refugees can also dream and showing the world that refugees have dreams. And even though they survived the war, they are still trying to make their dreams come true,” he commented.
This is the second time in the history of the refugee athletes competing in the Olympics. The refugee contingent’s first participation was in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. [uh/ab]