A message of solidarity and hope. It was around these two words that the first Olympic refugee team created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was built in 2016. For the first time this year, an equivalent team will also take part in the Paralympic Games. Composition, selection, operation: here is everything you need to know about these extraordinary teams.
Who compose them?
The Refugee Olympic team is made up of 29 athletes (19 men and 10 women). Coming from 13 host National Olympic Committees (NOCs), including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan, they will compete in 12 sports (including cycling, judo and athletics).
These athletes are accompanied by their coaches and dedicated staff, “physiotherapist, doctors, like any national team”, specifies Anne-Sophie Thilo, communications officer for the Olympic Refugee Team.
Six athletes (one woman and five men) make up the first refugee Paralympic team this year. Qualified “most courageous team in the world” by the President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Andrew Parson, it brings together athletes from Syria, Burundi, Afghanistan and Iran who will compete in athletics, swimming, canoeing and taekwondo.
When a refugee athlete steps up to the starting line, there’s a story behind them. One that represents the resilience of refugees and the power sport has to rebuild lives.
— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) April 6, 2021
How long have they been around?
The first EOR delegation appeared at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The team in Brazil was made up of ten athletes. Six of them were again selected for the Tokyo Games. If five years ago, two independent Paralympic athletes participated in the Games, it is the first time that a real team has been put together by the IPC.
Athletes from both teams will compete under the Olympic flag. If one of them wins, the Olympic anthem will sound.
How are the athletes selected?
The selection was made on the athletic performance of the athletes and the confirmation of their refugee status by the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United Nations agency. “Balanced representation in terms of sports, gender and regions has also been taken into account”, says the IOC.
The 29 participants in the Games were selected from among 56 members of the Olympic Solidarity Refugee Athlete Support Program, an IOC commission. “These athletes receive a monthly aid of 1300 dollars [environ 1270 euros]”, explains the team’s communications manager, “that they can use to pay for the costs of physical preparation, equipment or even travel”.
What is the point ?
The aim is to draw attention to the plight of refugees: send a “message of solidarity and hope” and “raise awareness of the tragedy experienced by more than 80 million displaced people on the planet”, indicates the IOC. The goal of the Paralympic team is also to “promote the inclusion of refugees with disabilities in sport”, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
“These athletes show tremendous resilience and have great journeys, underlines Anne-Sophie Thilo. It shows that sport can change lives. ”