The Refugee Olympic squad is more than a dream team
Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be remembered and its message of peace will prevail. Last Friday, the International Olympic Committee announced names of the ten athletes who will act not only as “a symbol of hope for refugees”, but also as bearer of peace in this divided world.
The six male and four female athletes, who will compete under the Olympic flag, are the best example that sport can be a source of hope even for those with no home and no flag. Sport is universal and is not leaving anybody behind, despite of his or her origin, nationality, religion or race.
Rami Anis, Yiech Pur Biel, Yonas Kinde and Yusra Mardini are names of four out of ten athletes who will participate in the Rio 2016 Olympics. I must say it is very sad that these talented athletes cannot represent their own countries due to unfavorable circumstances there, so at least the formation of refugee team will give them a hope to overcome hardships they have been facing before and after fleeing their home. Those ten brave athletes will represent with their face, efforts and commitment more than 60 million refugees that are currently displaced worldwide.
The Olympic Refugee squad sends not only a global message of tolerance and unity, but also creates an awareness among governments, sport organizations and civil society about the importance of commitment in actions that promotes peace, social cohesion and integration through sport. Therefore, it is a good moment for a clear thinking about long-term integration programs for refugees and migrants. We should follow the peaceful message carried by the refugee Olympic team to build more inclusive and tolerant societies.
Refugees are not only person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster; they are humans like everybody of us. They also have tremendous skills and capacities that can be used by their new hosting cities. The biggest proof for that are ten athletes who are part of the Olympic Refugee Team.
It is still unclear how many refugees and migrants will arrive to Europe. After their, usually very dangerous journey to reach Europe, it is important to offer them a warm welcome and necessary support. In order to encourage a positive reception, it is essential to educate local people about refugee experiences, as well as support refugees in integration into new respective cultures. Within this context, sport can be a powerful platform for breaking down barriers and engaging newly arrived refugees into their new homes. In addition, sport can serve as a tool for supporting inter-cultural dialogue and mechanisms in the fight against stereotypes, xenophobia and discrimination. From a development perspective, sport can also promote community development and social cohesion since by its very nature sport is about inclusion, citizenship and diversity respect.
Finally, I think it is also important to congratulate the other 33 athletes, who were shortlisted for the Refugee Olympic Team, as well as to thousands of refugees who are currently using sport as a tool for peace, healing and hope. I am also very pleased to know that one of Peace and Sport Champion for Peace, Tegla Loroupe will be the Chef de Mission of the Refugee Olympic Team.
The announcement of the Olympic Refugee team arrives like a fresh air in a desert. It reminds us that sport is more than a game, sport prevails in time and its values can transform and guide a generation.