It’s Time for Olympians to Get Involved
The sign is strong and the message eloquent. And the sight will be amazing. In April 2016, the Olympic flame will be lit in Olympia in Greece, less than four months before the opening of the Rio de Janeiro Games. It will begin its course in Athens and its outlying districts, then take off for Brazil twelve days later.
IOC President Thomas Bach made an announcement in the Greek capital on Thursday 28 January: the torch’s relay will pass through the Eleonas refugee camp in Athens, where several thousand migrants co-habit, most of them fleeing Iran and Afghanistan.
“We made the decision that the torch will pass through this camp, where it will be shown to its many refugees, explained Thomas Bach. We will even choose one of them to carry it.” The sign is strong. It adheres to the prolongation of the IOC initiative, which last year set up an emergency fund of USD two million to help National Olympic Committees in their programmes for migrants.
An initiative which should result in a small group of athletes from refugee camps attending the summer Games in Rio in August 2016. “There won’t be many, Thomas Bach said. Maybe 5 to 10. As they no longer have a home or a National Olympic Committee, they will walk behind the Olympic flag. We want to draw the attention of the whole world to the situation of these athletes and, beyond this, to the situation of hundreds of thousands of migrants”. The sight will be beautiful.
Thomas Bach put action behind his words by visiting a refugee camp. He did so in the name of the International Olympic Committee. But he also did it as an Olympian. Before chairing the Olympic organization, the German national himself participated in the Games as a fencer. In the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he won a gold medal in the team foil event. On Thursday 28 January 2016, at the Eleonas camp, his gesture had a double impact: it invited sporting leaders to join his cause. He called on Olympians the world over to copy him by also conveying his message of peace and solidarity.
Over these last months, the IOC and National Olympic Committees have greatly contributed to improve the situation of migrants. It’s now for athletes to take up the challenge. Their influence on young people and their weight with the media give them the power to make a difference. Now, in their own way, they can add actions to words to help migrants on standby for a host country and a new departure in life; modestly for some, more vociferously for others. It’s for athletes to rise to their status as role-models and set an example in a crisis whose victims are counted in hundreds of thousands. Olympians in particular. A status and title that has always been, and will be for a long time to come, associated with the values of mutual aid, commitment and going beyond excellence.