Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, March 04, 2016

High Hopes in Defiance of Low Realities

"I cannot fight for my country. I will fight for the Olympics."
"I will fight for all refugees in the world, to defend all refugees in the world."
"If my family see me on television, I can give my number, everything [renewed contact]. Because I want one day to talk even with my dad and my brothers."
"If I participated in the Olympics, I think it would change my life."
Yolande Mabika, refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil

"I wondered sometimes how to live when so many people were dying."
"We practise judo to forget everything we saw in the war. If you think about it, you lose."
"I represent everyone. I'll get a medal for all refugees."
Congolese athlete Popole Misenga, Brazil

"The point is that they stand for these million [outstanding athletes among the millions of the world's refugees]. They are one of the very popular chances to give face to the anonymity."
Michael Schirp, deputy head media relations and public affairs, German Olympic Sports Confederation

"Many times in my head I thought it would not happen because of politics, visa problems, lack of money and I could travel to ranking events."
"I do it for my dad and my family."
Raheleh Asemani, Iranian refugee, Belgium
You’re an Olympic-caliber athlete who has fled your home country. As the 2016 Olympic Games approach, you know you could qualify, but you’re not sure what team to call your own. You’re left in limbo, but you’re not alone. Countless migrants have sought refuge from situations of political unrest within the last year, 43 of whom have been identified as Olympic hopefuls. Fortunately, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) realized this, and officially created a team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA) to cater to the needs of these talented men and women 

They have much in common, these outstanding athletes, in their dedication to the competitive sport they excel at, in their wish to compete on the world stage among the most talented, and to demonstrate that despite the disadvantage of immense proportions that fate has hobbled them with, their spirit and their capacity to endure, to use their extraordinary competence to advantage despite their burden motivates them to aspire toward world championship status.

Through the auspices of the International Olympic Committee's recognized obligation to aid these national orphans of huge athletic talent to realize their dreams despite having been exiled by conflict and fear, these recognized sport figures are being given the support and opportunity to participate on a team comprised of talented athletic refugees eager to compete at the Summer Olympics in Brazil.

Among them will be a young Syrian champion swimmer who, with her sister, managed to escape death in the Mediterranean on their way to reach Greek Lesbos. The inflatable dinghy Ysra and Sarah Mardini were on with other refugees was typically overloaded by the human smugglers they had paid to convey them to Europe. Mid-trip the overloaded vessel took on water, slipping into the Mediterranean. The Mardini sisters survived because they were able to swim for three hours to reach Lesbos.

In this photo taken Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, Ysra Mardini, left, and her sister Sarah, right, from Syria pose for a photo during a training session in Berlin, Germany. Two months ago the sisters, who were once among Syria's brightest swimming stars, were swimming for their lives, after jumping off an inflatable boat that began taking on water carrying refugees to Greece. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) Ysra Mardini, left, and her sister Sarah, right (Michael Sohn/AP)

The IOC has supported the formation of a refugee team which will represent the IOC, not their countries of origin where their lives had been blighted by violent oppression bred of tribal, sectarian and clan hatreds, leading to homelessness and often death. The sisters now live in Germany. Ysra is able to practise her swimming style at a pool that was built for the 1930 Olympics, in the hopes of competing in Brazil.

Any medals any of the 43 selected refugee athletes may win, will be presented with the Olympic flag behind them, and the Olympic anthem resounding. Yolande Mabika and Popole Misenga describe how, in their war-torn country they would be locked up when they lost a competition and be deprived of food. The violence disrupting normalcy in the DRC, and the loss of their relatives to that violence persuaded them to voluntarily seek refuge elsewhere.

The estimated twenty million refugees currently on the world stage as testament to the sad dysfunction of far too many countries will be represented by this new, state-unaffiliated group of talented refugees under the banner of Team ROA [Refugee Olympic Athletes]. Some of these young people aspiring to international athletic fame hope this may aid them in once again making contact with their families back in the countries they had come from.

William Kopati, 22, was a high-jumper and long-jumper in Bangui before he was forced to flee in late March 2013, when militants attacked the house where he was living. Since 2006, he has competed several times in the national championships for high jump, long jump and 400-meter run – winning the gold medal for high-jump in 2009. This is the second time he has fled to the DRC, having been a refugee from 2001 to 2003. His dream is to continue his career in athletics, despite the challenges.  © UNHCR / Brian Sokol

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