Olympic first as refugee team to compete at Rio games

Ten athletes will compete in the Refugee Olympic Team under Olympic flag

Members of the Olympic Refugee Team in front of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Members of the Olympic Refugee Team in front of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters


This week, for the first time in history, refugees around the world are to have a team representing them at the Olympic Games.

The athletes will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team and march with the Olympic flag ahead of host nation Brazil at this Friday’s opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.

Ten athletes were chosen from a pool of 43 in early June. They include swimmer Yusra Mardini (18) from Syria, who during her perilous passage from Turkey to Greece last year got into the water and pushed the boat for three hours to get everyone to safety.

Judokas Popole Misenga and Yolande Makiba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, escaped a regime that deprived them of food and put them in cages if they lost competitions. Mr Misenga said he was competing “to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them. I want to show that refugees can do important things.”

The team also includes another Syrian swimmer, Rami Anis; Ethiopian marathon runner Yonas Kinde; and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan: James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel; Paulo Lokoro; Rose Lokonyen and Anjelina Lohalith.

The initiative comes at a time when an estimated 60 million people have fled conflict and persecution.

“Their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity,” said UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi. “UNHCR stands with them and with all refugees.”

Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) said it was an honour for Team Ireland to be together in the Olympic Village with the Refugee Olympic Team.

“Sport is a universal language and it has that special ability to break stereotypes and bring people together. In front of a global audience, the Refugee Olympic Team will raise awareness and shed light on the magnitude of difficult challenges that refugees are facing in our world today.”

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Ken McCue, of Sport Against Racism Ireland, welcomed the IOC initiative as part of a drive to link sport with social responsibility. “The Olympics should be about sport and about people and communities, and not about flags and banners.”

For the presentation of any medals to the refugee team, the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic Anthem played.

Olympian and former marathon world record-holder Tegla Loroupe of Kenya will be the team’s chef de mission.