July 23, 2021, the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020 kicks off exactly one year after being postponed due to the Corona-virus crisis. Apart from the absence of a myriad of spectators, owing to the Covid protocols, the Olympics is starting off in its conventional fashion. Dazzling fireworks, jaw dropping dance performance, an emphatic portrayal of the Japanese national anthem by singer MISIA, the Tokyo Olympics gets a heart warming ceremony.
And this ceremony is followed by the usual Parade of Nations, wherein the 206 different members comprising the Olympics body are represented by the participants bearing their respective nation’s flag.
To commemorate this age old sporting tradition that dates back to 776 BCE, the first country to represent itself in the Parade of Nations is Greece, where the first ever Olympics took place.
Japan's Naomi Osaka lights the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony in the Olympic Stadium at the 2020 Summer Olympics July 23, 2021 (Natacha Pisarenko/AP Images)
What comes next is rather amusing. For this branch, unlike Greece, or any other branches, in neither a country, nor a political territory of any kind. This is the Refugee Olympic team (EOR), an independent participant consisting of athletes who were born into different countries but are now holding the status of refugees.
What is a Refugee Olympic Team?
First introduced in the 2016 Rio Olympics at the behest of IOC’s president Thomas Bach, the Refugee Olympic Team consists of 29 athletes coming from countries such as Syria, Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Cameroon among others, who are not only representing a collective body, but are also acting as a symbol of hope for countless of people who have been left stranded by some or the other political chaos prevailing in their original countries. These athletes live and train across 13 nations and are supported by the IOC's Olympic Scholarships for Refugee Athletes program.
The Olympic Refugee team enters the athletes parade during the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
This is the second time the Refugee Olympic Team has been a part of the Olympics. Following a successful debut of this independent Olympic body 5 years ago, which consisted of just 10 athletes, the International Olympic Committee decided to increase the number of participants by 19, to a total of 29. These 29 athletes, originally from 11 countries, will be contesting in 12 games including Athletics, Weightlifting, Karate, Badminton, Swimming, etc.
Yusra Mardini and Tachlowini Gabriyesos of the Refugee Olympic Team lead their contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games. July 23, 2021 (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Yusra Mardini- Syria born swimmer, now living in Hamburg Germany, Yusra Mardini, who was a part of the EOR’s first appearance at the 2016 Rio Olympics will be competing in the Women’s Butterfly 100m swimming event.
Yusra Mardini was one of the flag bearers for the Refugee Olympic Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Rose Nathinke Likonyen- Born in South Sudan, now living as a refugee in Kenya, Track and Field Athlete, Rose Likonyen will be participating in the Women's 800m Athletics event.
Rose Nathinke Lokonyen finished 7th at the Women's 800m athletics event at the Rio 2016 Olympics. (UNHCR/Benjamin Loyseau)
James Nyang Chiengjiek- Originally from South Sudan, now living and training in Kenya, James Chiengjiek is representing the Refugee Olympic Team at the Men’s 400m Athletic event in the Tokyo Olympics.
Chiengjiek finished 8th at the Men's 400m heat in the Rio 2016 Olympics.
(Georgina Goodwin/ Georgina Goodwin Images)
Tachlowini Gabriyesos- Eritrean born long distance runner, now living in Israel became the first refugee athlete to clock an Olympic qualifying standard for the Tokyo Games and will now be representing the EOR.
Tachlowini Gabriyesos was among the two flag bearers for the Refugee
Olympic Team at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. (Getty Images)
Wessam Salamana- Syrian boxer Wessam Salamana represented his home country at the 2012 London Olympics. He left for Germany in 2015 with his family and has been selected to represent the EOR in the Men’s Bantamwight division Boxing event.
Salamana has been selected for his 2nd Olympic appearance at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. (Philanthropyage.org)
Javad Mahjoub- Iranian Judo player, now living as a refugee in Canada is set to represent the Refugee Olympic team in the Men’s +100Kg Judo event at the Tokyo Games.
Javad Mahjoub will be competing at the Judo event for the EOR.
At the onset of 2021, there were more than 80 million people who were forced to leave their native land as a result of various human rights violations and a stifled political situation in many countries that are far from being over. As a result, these 80 million people have no other option but to look for a home away from their home in other parts of the world. Whilst countries such as Canada, Germany, France, and Israel have lent their hand in support of these ‘nation-less’ people, the chaos is still very much alive as more and more people are leaving their native land amid rising conflicts and war situations. Not to mention the further conundrum these people face upon seeking refuge as they battle racism, religious biases, unemployment, lack of education, poverty, etc.
It is imperative for the world to know the magnitude of the crisis Refugees all around the world are facing. And What better a podium to highlight the Refugee crisis and express a global solidarity toward them than the Olympic Games! The introduction of the Refugee Olympic Team is a great step to showcase that Refugees are no different from the nominal citizens of the many countries of the world.
They too should have equal rights and opportunities to represent themselves and their viewpoints, for it doesn’t matter what country have they been forced to leave. They are humans, just like you and I. They deserve the same freedom, just as anyone of us would want. The same right to education just as you would want to have for your children. The same calm and peaceful environment that you so desperately strive for. The same Olympic Gold medal that you would want your favorite athlete to win.
Despite getting marred by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Olympic motto of Citius Altius Fortius triumphantly thrives under the Refugee Olympic Team’s flag, just as that of my country or your country.
The Olympic Flag. (Olympics.com)