The Olympics: a time for worldwide celebration and unity. The games, however, are often used as a distraction – distraction from politics, terror attacks and war. It’s easy for those living in the U.S. to use these games just as such. The athletes get a vacation in beautiful Brazil, and viewers at home can kick back on the couch, cheering their countries on. But while first world countries get a break from the seemingless endless stream of despairing news stories, these stories don’t vanish. War rages on across the globe, displacing hundreds in what has become the Global Refugee Crisis.
But these refugees are just like every other boy and girl across the globe. They too dreamed of making it to the Olympics, displaying their talent on the highest stage. Even in the face of adversity, these athletes were not going to sit back and let the horrors of war dictate their lives.
The 2016 Rio Olympics was the first time a team of 10 refugees came walking through the Parade of Nations, heads held high, under an Olympic flag.
These 10 athletes hailed from four different countries including Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their respective sports were as diverse as the athletes themselves, ranging from swimming to running to even judo.
While in Rio, this refugee team was treated like any other country’s representatives: they lived in the Olympic Village, they were screened for performance-enhancing drugs, and if they secured a medal, the Olympic flag would be raised and the Olympic tune would be sung.
Even though no medals were achieved by this team, their stories of hope and courage were heard around the world. Years from now, those looking back on the 2016 Olympics will remember not only Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt but Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who towed a boat of 20 to safety in the frigid waters of the Aegean Sea and competed in the 100m freestyle and butterfly.
The International Olympic Committee’s, or IOC’s, support of refugees will not end in Rio. The IOC has established a fund of 2 million U.S. dollars to go towards relief projects and continues to partner with the United Nations to help the worldwide refugee crisis.
This year the Olympic games were able to bring the world even closer together. President Thomas Bach of the IOC encapsulated just what the olympic spirit is all about.
“This will be a symbol of hope,” Bach said. “It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to our society.”