Yusra Mardini, one of the star athletes of the IOC Refugee team at Rio 2016 | Credit: Reuters/Michael Dalder
Yusra Mardini, one of the star athletes of the IOC Refugee team at Rio 2016 | Credit: Reuters/Michael Dalder

The Olympic Refugee Team gives athletes who fled violence and war a chance to show off their skills. Here's a look at what the team does and what's in store for them when they compete in 2020.

A team of refugees will compete in the summer Olympic games in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. It's the second time that such a team has taken part: 10 refugee athletes from countries such as Syria and Ethiopia made their debut at the 2016 summer games in Rio de Janeiro. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will form the 2020 team out of a pool of 50 athletes. This pool could expand to even more candidates, however.

"In an ideal world, we would not need to have a refugee team at the Olympic Games," IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters on Tuesday. "But, unfortunately, the reasons why we first created a refugee Olympic team before the Olympic Games Rio 2016 continue to persist."

"In 2016, the Rio refugee team captured the imagination of people around the world and showed the human side of the global refugee crisis through sport," UNHCR Filippo Grandi added. "I'm delighted that this tradition is to continue in Tokyo. Giving these exceptional young people the opportunity to compete at the very highest levels is admirable."

Some of the members of the International Olympic Committee are refugees themselves such as Samira Asghari, who fled poverty and war in Afghanistan. "Being a sport teacher in a school was everything I wanted," she said. "I could never have imagined being a member of the IOC. I am very proud and hope I can encourage other girls and children in Afghanistan."

The refugee team in 2016 was the first ever all-refugee Olympic Team to compete in the games. The team was funded with 2 million US dollars from the IOC. One of the most famous members of the 2016 team was the Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini. She now lives in Berlin and was appointed as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in April 2017. She also wrote an autobiography called "Butterfly," named after the Butterfly swimming stroke.

•••• ➤ Also read: Yusra Mardini tells life story in her autobiography "Butterfly"

The Olympic Refuge Foundation

In September 2017, the IOC started the Olympic Refugee Foundation, which assists refugees through sports. The non-profit foundation is partnered with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. 

"Playing sport in a safe environment is not a right granted to everyone around the world, especially for the more than 65 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes because of war or persecution," the Olympics website says about the Foundation. 

One of the places where the foundation is active is in refugee camps in Rwanda. For example, the IOC and UNHCR organized a three-week training for 102 sport coaches in Rwandan refugee camps. "After losing every single hope on becoming a famous football player, I decided to train young refugees in Nyabiheke camp because I believe that through assisting our children and youth, they can achieve greater things," one of the coaches being trained by the Foundation in Rwanda told the UNHCR .

Another country where the organization is active in is Jordan, where the UN built a sports ground in the Azraq camp, where more than 2000 refugees can now participate in games such as basketball, football and volleyball.

•••• ➤ Also read: Syrian refugee is the UNHCR's new ambassador


More articles