The year of refugees
News topics often influence scheduled events in the calendar year.
The Olympic year of 2016 will also be the year of refugees. Not just in Europe, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have sought asylum over the last months, but all over the world.
Sport is no stranger to this phenomenon – especially the Olympic movement. At the first signs of this crisis in September of last year, IOC President Thomas Bach announced his organization’s decision to create a USD 2-million emergency fund made available to National Olympic Committees to help refugees. “We want to play our part” Mr Bach solemnly explained.
In Europe, several countries have heeded the IOC’s appeal and have used this money to bring their share to the collective effort. In Austria, the NOC works with five sports centres throughout the country to launch initiatives in refugee camps and shelters. Belgium’s NOC has teamed up with the Red Cross to provide sports equipment to 30 welcome centres spread over the country. In two regions of Bulgaria, tournaments are held for children without parental care, during which they can play mini-football, athletics, table tennis, basketball and badminton. In Denmark, the “get2sport for all” programme enables migrants to enjoy sport in the country’s 16,000 clubs. In Slovenia, the Olympic movement organizes sports and educational events such as mini-Olympiads in the country’s holding centres. Overall, 17 national Olympic committees have made use of the IOC fund, which is now almost exhausted.
The wheel has been set in motion and there’s no stopping it now. After announcing that refugee athletes will have the opportunity to participate in the Rio 2016 Games under the Olympic banner, the IOC carefully searched the hundreds of camps the world over. At the end of painstaking exploration, Pere Miro, Deputy Director General for relations with the Olympic movement, announced that three potential Olympic participants have been selected: a Syrian swimmer refugee in Germany, a Congolese judoka in Brazil and an Iranian taekwondo specialist living in Belgium. “We can give them a grant and help them to try and qualify” explains Pere Miro.
A sign of the times, candidate cities for the 2024 summer Olympic Games are now integrating the refugee situation into their bids. In Rome, bid committee chair Luca di Montezemolo proposed that if the Italian capital is selected to host the Games, the Olympic Torch Relay would start in the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. “A strong sign” according to the ex-Ferrari head. And renewed proof of the impact that sport can play in solving crises and conflicts in the modern-day world.