THE PRESIDENT OF THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (IOC), THOMAS BACH, TODAY MET FOR THE FIRST TIME THE REFUGEE ATHLETES WHO WILL BE COMPETING FOR THE IOC REFUGEE OLYMPIC TEAM IN TOKYO. PRESIDENT BACH WAS ACCOMPANIED BY UN REFUGEE AGENCY (UNHCR) HIGH COMMISSIONER FILIPPO GRANDI.
The visit started at the Olympic Village Plaza, where the athletes signed the Olympic Truce Mural that was inaugurated earlier in the week.
Commenting after signing the Mural, Yiech Pur Biel, the athletes’ representative for the Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 said: “The IOC Refugee Olympic Team is here in Tokyo to represent the millions of refugees around the world, and has the power to send a message to be strong and to make the world a better place through sport for everyone. It is an honour to sign the Mural, to tell people to support each other in whatever they are doing, in sport or anything.”
Biel, together with six of the 29 athletes who form the Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020, competed for the first Refugee Olympic Team at Rio 2016: swimmer Yusra Mardini, judoka Popole Misenga and runners Anjelina Nadai Lohalith (1,500m), James Nyang Chiengjiek (800m), Paulo Amotun Lokoro (1,500m) and Rose Nathike Likonyen (800m).
While walking through the Village with the athletes, the IOC President said: “It is a great feeling to finally meet the team after all the obstacles they had to overcome and to feel the spirit of this team, a real Olympic spirit full of dynamism and joy. We are really looking forward to seeing them tomorrow at the Opening Ceremony, sending this great signal about what an enrichment refugees are for our Olympic community and for society at large. It will be a great moment for all of us, and we hope everyone will join.”
The UNHCR High Commissioner stressed: “As athletes, they have overcome all the constraints that the pandemic is posing to everybody. As refugees, they have also had to overcome a lot of adversity. So somehow, this team is also a symbol of the victory over adversity that these Olympic Games represent.”
Luna Solomon (shooting), Aram Mahmoud (badminton), Dina Pouryounes Langeroudi (taekwondo) and Yusra Mardini (swimming) will be the first members of the Team to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, with their respective competitions beginning on 24 July.
Thomas Bach said: “The Olympic Games are about competitions. This is what this Team likes, and we will keep our fingers crossed. The athletes are welcome in our Olympic Community, among their fellow athletes, competing with them but also living with them together under one roof.”
UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi added: “These are young people, who like any or all other young people like to compete, who like to win if they win, and we wish them very well for the next few days.”
Continuing the legacy
Competing across 12 sports and from 13 host National Olympic Committees, the Team is now looking to build on the legacy created by the first Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016.
The historic participation of refugee athletes in Rio prompted the creation of the Olympic Refuge Foundation (ORF) in September 2017, as the next chapter in the IOC’s long-term commitment to supporting the protection, development and empowerment of displaced young people through sport, 365 days a year across the globe.
The Foundation aims to provide access to safe sport to one million young people affected by displacement by 2024.