In 2016, the Rio Olympics hosted the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) for athletes that had been displaced by turmoil in their home nations.
2016’s ROT was comprised of 10 athletes from South Sudan (5), Ethiopia (1), The Democratic Republic of the Congo (2), and Syria (2). While an official 2020 Refugee Olympic Team has not yet been named, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Olympic Solidarity initiative currently sponsors 37 Olympic-hopefuls living and training abroad.
While these athletes receive funding from the IOC to practice their sports and hone their skills in the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games, making the team is not guaranteed. Rather, the purpose of Olympic Solidarity put forward by the Olympic Solidarity Commission is:
The aim of Olympic Solidarity is to organise assistance for all the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), particularly those with the greatest needs, through multi-faceted programmes prioritising athlete development, training of coaches and sports administrators, and promoting the Olympic ideals (Olympic Charter, rule 5).
Furthermore, the Olympic Solidarity Commission is responsible for furthering the goals of the Olympic Charter, including:
- Promoting the Fundamental Principles of Olympism;
- Assisting the NOCs in the preparation of their athletes and teams for their participation in the Olympic Games;
- Developing the technical sports knowledge of athletes and coaches;
- Improving the technical level of athletes and coaches in cooperation with NOCs and IFs, including through scholarships;
- Training sports administrators;
- Cooperating with organisations and entities pursuing such objectives, particularly through Olympic education and the propagation of sport;
- Creating, where needed, simple, functional and economical sports facilities in cooperation with national or international bodies;
- Supporting the organisation of competitions at national, regional and continental level under the authority or patronage of the NOCs, and assisting the NOCs in the organisation, preparation and participation of their delegations in regional and continental Games;
- Encouraging joint bilateral or multilateral cooperation programmes among NOCs;
- Urging governments and international organisations to include sport in official development assistance.
Of the 37 sponsored athletes currently sponsored, 18 are athletics specialists from South Sudan, currently living and training at the Tegla Loroupe Refugee Training Centre in Ngong, Kenya. Rose Lokonyen, one of the displaced South Sudanese training in Kenya, was the flagbearer for the ROT during the Opening Ceremonies of the Rio Olympics in 2016. The Closing Ceremonies flagbearer, Popole Misenga, a judoka from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is also on scholarship and currently residing in Brazil.
The only swimmers on the roster of 2020 Olympic-hopefuls are Syrians Yusra Mardini‘s and Rami Anis, both Rio 2016 Olympians. Mardini gained recognition during the Olympics in 2016 after winning her preliminary heat of the women’s 100 meter butterfly, and more notably, for her incredible and dangerous escape from Syria to Greece: during the crossing, the engine on Mardini’s boat died, so her and her sister Sara Mardini pushed and pulled the boat full of other refugees to shore on the Greek island Lesbos.
Since 2016, Mardini has become a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Goodwill Ambassador, and traveled the world promoting peace through sport with the UN and the IOC. In 2018 Mardini published a book called Butterfly about her life, and a biographical film about her is also in the works.
Mardini currently lives and trains in Hamburg, Germany. Anis, meanwhile, lives and trains in Istanbul, Turkey, though in the lead-up to Rio he resided in Belgium.
Refugee Athlete Scholarship-Holders
* 10 athletes who were part of the first IOC Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016.
** 13 new individual athletes in various sports identified and assisted by the NOCs of their country of asylum since the launch of the programme.
*** A group of athletes training at the Tegla Loroupe Refugee Training Centre in Ngong, Kenya. Athletes have been identified in various refugee camps and brought to the training centre since the partnership between Olympic Solidarity and the centre began in September 2015.
- Jamal ABDOUL-MAGID ** — Sudan (Athletics – 10,000m)
- Ubaa Dinta ACHOTO *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800/1500m)
- Wael Fawaz AL-FARRAJ ** — Syria (Taekwondo – 58kg)
- Rami ANIS * — Syria (Swimming – 100m freestyle)
- Dominic Lokolong ATIOL *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 1500m)
- Josephine Tain AUGUSTINHO *** — South Sudan ( Athletics – 1500m)
- Yiech Pur BIEL */*** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800m)
- Ukuk Utho’o BUL *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 5000m)
- James Nyang CHIENGJIEK */*** — South Sudan (Athletics – 400m)
- Duol Charles ELIJAH *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800m)
- Joseph Elia ERNESTO *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800m)
- Amir Mohammad HOSSEINI ** — Islamic Republic of Iran (Taekwondo – 58kg)
- Dorian KELETELA ** — Democratic Republic of Congo (Athletics – 100m)
- Yonas KINDE * — Ethiopia (Athletics – marathon)
- Dina Pouryounes LANGEROUDI ** — Islamic Republic of Iran (Taekwondo – 49kg)
- Anjelina Nadai LOHALITH */*** — South Sudan (Athletics – 1500m)
- Simon Lodai LOHUJU *** — South Sudan ( Athletics – 1500m/5000m)
- Rose Nathike LOKONYEN */*** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800m)
- Paulo Amotun LOKORO */*** — South Sudan (Athletics – 1500m)
- Yolande MABIKA * — Democratic Republic of Congo (Judo – 70kg)
- Aram MAHMOUD ** — Syria (Badminton)
- Tekleweyni MALAKE ** — Eritrea (Athletics – 1500m)
- Lydia Philip MAMUN *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 800m)
- Yusra MARDINI * — Syria (Swimming – 100m butterfly)
- Simon Ayong MAURIS *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 5000m)
- Kasra MEHDIPOURNEJAD ** — Islamic Republic of Iran (Taekwondo – 80kg)
- Popole MISENGA * — Democratic Republic of Congo ( Judo – 90kg)
- Gaston NSAZUMUKIZA *** — Democratic Republic of Congo (Athletics – 5000m)
- Clementina Ihure RILANDO *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 1500m)
- Abdullah SEDIQI ** — Afghanistan (Taekwondo – 58kg)
- Wael SHUEB ** — Syria ( Karate – Kata)
- Asif SULTANI ** — Afghanistan (Karate – 75kg)
- John Lokibe TABAN *** — South Sudan (Athletics – 5000m)
- Cyrille Fagat TCHATCHET II ** — Cameroon (Weightlifting – 94kg)
- Rose Ihisa UWARO ** — South Sudan (Athletics – 200m)
- Farid WALIZADEH ** — Afghanistan (Boxing – 56kg)
- Chajen Dang YIEN *** — South Sudan (Athletics – Javelin throw)