Stateless Athletes Will Compete in Rio de Janeiro Olympics

Refugee Olympic Team to compete under the Olympic Rings instead of national flag

Olympic flag
Wikimedia Commons
July 18, 2016

For the first time, a refugee Olympic team of six male and four female stateless athletes will compete in three sports next month in Rio de Janeiro under the Olympic Rings instead of a national flag.

The team includes swimmers from Syria, judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and runners from South Sudan and Ethiopia, according to Times of Israel.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) created the Refugee Olympic Team as a way to address the global refugee crisis and help individual refugee athletes.

"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," IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement. "It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society."

The IOC fully funds the team through the Olympic Solidarity Association.

The national Olympic committees, countries of origin, international federations, and the UNHCR chose the members of Refugee Olympic Team.

The team is made up only of refugee athletes who were all forcibly displaced from their countries and had to seek asylum elsewhere, said Nora Sturm of the Geneva press office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Some of the athletes fled their homes as children and some were already competing in their sport. Half of the team comes from South Sudan and is training in Kenya while the other half train in Brazil, Luxembourg, Germany, and Belgium, according to Times of Israel.

Tegla Laroupe, a three-time Olympian for Kenya who coaches the runners in Kenya, is also the coach of the entire Refugee Olympic Team.

"I am really happy to represent the refugee team, to be able to fight in the Olympic Games," said Popole Misenga, refugee from Democratic Republic of the Congo and judo athlete for the Refugee Olympic Team. "Life brought me this opportunity and I will fight to win.