Celebrating the World Refugee Day with the Refugee Olympic Team
World Refugee day, marked on June 20, is a moment to reflect about challenges refugees are facing in their everyday lives, as well as about the resilience they demonstrate in overcoming them. This moment is also an opportunity to center our thoughts in the meaningful and positive impact they leave on society. I have seen that most of refugees’ athletes hope to find a chance to use sport as a tool to rebuild what they have lost. For them, sport is a synonym of hope and new beginning.
After the establishment of the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2003, I began a challenging journey. The foundation is focused on peace and development that uses sport as a tool to bring people together, and to socially and economically develop Northern Kenya and the Greater Horn of Africa Region. Few weeks ago I learned that five out the ten refugees, who qualified for the Olympic Refugee team, are athletes from our training center for refugees athletes.
Those five athletes are a truthful example of resilience, talent and social commitment. Thanks to sport they have been able to overcome their difficulties and envisage a better future for their communities. For instance, Rose Nathike Lokonye, who has been a refugee since four years old due to the unrests in South Sudan, is currently living in one of the world’s largest refugee camps – Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. She aims to represent as best as possible the capacities of refugees at Rio 2016, but also hopes to return to South Sudan and become a role model for the people in her community.
Refugee athletes, who did not qualify for Rio 2016, are also a great example of resilience and strength. Garkuoth Puok Thiep, whose family was killed during the war between the North and South Sudan and in an afterwards bomb attack, today serves as a role model to children. Since he started running in 2009, Garkuoth aspires to be a successful athlete.
As the Chef de Mission of the Refugee Olympic Team, I am convinced that refugees can help creating a positive environment in their communities through sport. They hope of returning to their home countries in order to share the values of sport with new generations. In that sense, it is fundamental to support the development of sport programs in refugee camps. Refugee camps are home to numerous children and youth, who will be responsible for the reconstruction of their nation and the establishment of more peaceful society one day.
I want to call for development of sport programs for children and youth living in refugee camps. I am convinced that sport can serve as a tool for refugee empowerment. In order to do so, sport programs have to involve local coaches and adapt to the context and needs of the refugees.
The ten refugees who are part of the Refugee Olympic Team are not necessarily competing for the medals. Their main goal is to represent more than 65 million displaced people worldwide. Through their efforts and commitment in Rio 2016 they want to send a message of peace and resilience to demonstrate that despite war and conflict, the human spirit and the values of sport cannot be destroyed.