Refugee Team to Compete in the Olympics

For the first time, the International Olympics Committee decided to admit a team of African refugees in the Rio Olympics

July 07th, 2016

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) is not famous for political standpoints. But the IOC, in response to the tragic events that have forced more than 60 million people from their homes and countries, has decided to make an exception and create the first ever refugee team, composed of African refugees.

According to Chapter 5 of the Olympics Charter “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in the Olympic areas.” This is one of the golden rules of the IOC, a rule that is strictly applied by the committee whatever the cause. The most iconic example occurred in 1968, at the Olympics in Mexico City, when the African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made the Black Power salute during their medal ceremony. The IOC expelled both from the Olympics.

48 years later, with the creation of the first ever Olympic team of refugees, the IOC itself is making an exception to this rule. The team will consist of ten refugee-athletes from Syria, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia. “This will be a symbol of hope for the refugees in our world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis”, said IOC President Thomas Bach.

“We are very inspired by the refugee Olympic athletes team having had their sporting careers interrupted, these high-level refugee athletes will finally have the chance to pursue their dreams”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

As the refugee team has no flag or anthem, it will parade under the symbolic Olympic banner. “We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honour and the Olympic flag will lead them to the stadium”, said IOC President.

However, looking beyond the symbolism of their presence at the Olympics, the refugee team has not forgotten that the Olympics are a competition. The South Sudanese runner, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, said, “I expect to win, but it depends on if I’m hardworking and how people compete.” Through the Olympics, she wants to prove that “being a refugee doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. Most of the refugees have talent, they just don’t have the chance to express that talent”.

The refugee team will have a lot to compete for: personal glory and symbol of dignity for the millions of people in the world living far from their home. “It is a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society”, concluded IOC President Thomas Bach.


Cultural Diplomacy News
Gaspard Fontaine, CD News