The 2016 Summer Olympics will be held next month, 5 August thru 21 August, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 207 nations will compete in 306 events in 28 sports. More than 10,500 athletes are expected to participate. This year, there will be a new team on the roster, and although I am not a sports fan, I am excited for and about this team. This team represents no single nation, and yet it represents many nations. In some ways, perhaps it represents us all, represents humanity. This year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made an unprecedented political statement by creating a team of ten refugee athletes from Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Ethiopia who will compete not just for individual Olympic glory, but for the dignity of the world’s 65.3 million displaced people. Now if that doesn’t warm your heart, then you have a heart made of lead.
IOC President Thomas Bach said, “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”
Yiech Pur Biel of Sudan is one of the ten members of the team. A refugee from Sudan, Biel has lived in a refugee camp in northwestern Kenya since 2005. Biel will be competing in the 800-meter track and field event, and he will also will lead the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony in Rio, where his team will march under the Olympic banner, since they have no flag of their own. “Even if we will not manage to get gold, at least we can do something to show the world we can make it in life,” said Biel.
The Refugee Olympic Team consists of five (5) members from Sudan, two (2) from Syria, one (1) from Ethiopia, and two (2) from the Congo. They are:
- Rami Anis, 25, Syria, 100-metre butterfly
- Yolande Mabika, 28, Democratic Republic of the Congo, middleweight
- Paulo Amotun Lokoro, 24, South Sudan, 1,500 metres
- Yusra Mardini, 18, Syria, 200-metre freestyle
- Yiech Pur Biel, 21, South Sudan, 800 metres
- Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, South Sudan, 800 metres
- Popole Misenga, 24, Democratic Republic of the Congo, middleweight
- Yonas Kinde, 36, Ethiopia, marathon
- Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, 21, South Sudan, 1,500 metres
- James Nyang Chiengjiek, 28, South Sudan, 800 metres
Please feel free to visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) UNHCR website for additional information and brief biographies of each of these brave athletes.
There have been a number of controversies surrounding this summer’s Olympic games. I am sure you have heard some, from sewage in the water to Zika to violence and politics. But the games themselves should rise above all of this. The games are about hard work, ethics, competitiveness, and teamwork. Let us not allow human foibles to detract from the purity of the athletic spirit. Perhaps the Olympic Creed says it best: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”
I generally watch only parts of the opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies on summer Olympics. I much prefer skiing, luge, skating and other winter games to watching sweaty guys run around a track. However, this year, I plan to watch at least some of the contests in which this new refugee team will be participating and I will be rooting for these guys and gals who have overcome odds that most of us cannot even imagine. I hope they win medals, certainly, but I tip my hat to them for coming as far as they have. If they win not a single medal, they are still the gold standard, the heroes and the winners in my book.