Rio 2016. For the first time, a team of refugee athletes will compete in the Olympic Games

Alle Olimpiadi di Rio ci sarà, per la prima volta, una squadra composta da dieci rifugiati. Così i giochi olimpici brasiliani sono già entrati nella storia.

The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have already set a record. For the first time, a team of refugees who fled wars, persecutions and famine will compete in the Olympics. Ten athletes, selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from a total of 43 candidates, will compete for the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) from 5 to 21 August.

Who are the ten athletes of the Refugee Olympic Team

Rami Anis was the first athlete to be officially announced. He’s a Syrian swimmer who grew up in Aleppo but now lives and trains in Belgium. With him there’s Yusra Mardini, Syrian swimmer who now lives in Germany. Yolande Busaka Mabika and Popole Misenga are Congolese judokas who have been training in Brazil since 2013. Yonas Kinde comes from Ethiopia and trains in Luxemburg.

Along with them, there are five Sudanese runners who had the privilege of being trained by track-and-field athlete Tegla Loroupe, 47, from Kenya, five-time World Half-Marathon champion. Loroupe launched the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in 2003 with the aim of promoting solidarity projects linked to sports. One of her projects initially was considered to be hard work as she wanted to make 8 refugees compete at the Rio 2016 Olympics. These people lived in countries torn by conflicts and famine, with no possibility to train freely and, least of all, to take part in the Olympic Games, the final objective of every athlete.

After Saamiya, the dream continues

Yet, their dream did come true. Their dream recalls the story of Saamiya Yusuf Omar, the Somali girl who competed in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing but died in the attempt of crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2012. Her story as an athlete and refugee was told by writer Giuseppe Catozzella in the book Non dirmi che hai paura.

“Some of the refugees of the Olympic team are part of the group Tegla Loroupe wanted to train and live at Anita’s Home. We thank Tegla for including us in her dream of making sports a school of peace,” said Father Renato Kizito Sesana, Comboni missionary who has been operating in Africa for decades. He established the Koinonia community in 1995 and, together with Italian NGO Amani, supports shelter houses, schools, educational and professional centres in Kenya, Zambia, and Sudan.

The five selected runners are Yiech Pur Biel (men’s 800 metres), James Nyang Chiengjiek (men’s 400 metres), Anjelina Nada Lohalith (women’s 1,500 metres), Rose Nathike Lokonyen (women’s 800 metres), and Paulo Amotun Lokoro (men’s 1,500 metres).

The verdant hills of Ngong

Anita’s Home is located on the silent, verdant hills of Ngong, in the outskirt of the Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Besides hosting the Olympic athletes, it has been giving shelter to street girls since 1999. For athletes, it’s a perfect place to focus and find the perfect harmony.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them into the stadium,” said Thomas Bach, President of IOC. “These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit,” Bach added.

The ten athletes have crossed seas and deserts to flee war and the most dreadful suffering, have faced indifference and racism. But they will finally have the possibility of living moments of peace, talking to people from all over the world, being advised by the world’s greatest champions, and competing with them, equally. Who knows if their dream will end with a victory.

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