Refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini gets a chance to go the Olympic Games

As we reported earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced a “Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA)” that will be made up of athletes who are struggeling as a result of the world refugee crisis. The sportswomen and sportsmen of this team should get the chance to compete at the upcoming Olympics and according to an IOC press release, the IOC will fit  each athlete on this new team with uniforms, offer them “adequate insurance,” and offset travel costs, among other things. Nearly fifty athletes have been identified by the IOC as potential members of this new team. The IOC hopes to narrow it down and launch a team of between five and ten athletes for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee swimmer who now lives and trains in Berlin, Germany. She and her sister Sarah fled their home in Damascus, the capital of Syria, last summer and found a new home in Berlin. During the dramatic flight over the Mediterranean, the two girls and another woman pulled and pushed swimming for several hours a boat with other refugees because they were the only ones who can swim – especially a longer distance. At a press conference held yesterday in Berlin, Germany, the 18- year-old said:“I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I am a swimmer”. She has hated the open sea ever since.

Yusra represented Syria at the Short Course World Championships in Turkey in 2012 and she now trains with the German swim club “Wasserfreunde Spandau 04” and she lives in the club’s home although her parents also live now in Germany. Yusra attend the elite school of sports in Berlin. She is now one of the possible 43 candidates across the world for the “Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA)” for Rio. “I want refugees to be proud of me. I want to encourage them”, she said. She added at the press conference that the chance to reach the Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But before she could compete at the Olympics, she must reach a qualifying standard, a 2:03,13 in the 200 m freestyle – her personal best time is 2:11 and lately she swam 2:15. Her coach Sven Spannekrebs said that she makes progresses every day and for Yusra the important thing is: “I think first of all I want to do it for all the people; I want to inspire everyone. When you have a problem in your life, it doesn’t mean you have to sit around and cry like babies or something. The problem was the reason I am here, and why I am stronger and want to reach my goals. So I want to inspire everyone that [they] can do what they believe in their hearts.”

IOC President Thomas Bach explained more about the announced team and its status at the Olympic Games 2016: “By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, we want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world. Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic anthem. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.” Bach estimates only between five and 10 athletes will reach the qualifying standard in their sports but everyone of the identified 43 competitors has the talent to potentially qualify.

The Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today created a team of Refugee Olympic Athletes for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. It will be treated at the Olympic Games like all the other teams of the 206 National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

The EB also approved the operational aspects surrounding Team ROA.

  • The name of the team will be Team Refugee Olympic Athletes;
  • Team ROA will get its own welcome ceremony at the Olympic Village, like all other teams;
  • The team will be housed like all the other teams;
  • A team entourage will be appointed by the IOC to meet all the required technical needs of the athletes, including: Chef de Mission, coaches and technical officials (as per official quotas);
  • The team uniforms will be provided by the IOC;
  • For all official representations of the team (including possible medal ceremonies), the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic Anthem will be played;
  • The team will march behind the Olympic flag before host team Brazil at the Opening Ceremony;
  • An adequate insurance policy will be contracted;
  • A proper doping control process will be introduced through the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA); and
  • Olympic Solidarity will cover travel and other participation expenses for the team and will continue to support the athletes of the team after the Olympic Games.

As part of the IOC’s pledge to aid potential elite athletes affected by the worldwide refugee crisis, the NOCs were asked to identify any refugee athlete with the potential to qualify for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Such candidates could then receive funding from Olympic Solidarity to assist with their preparations and qualification efforts.

Forty-three promising candidates have been identified, whom the IOC is now assisting. In view of the complexity of the process and in order to allow sufficient time to finalise and consolidate all the necessary information about these candidates, the EB decided today to close the call for new candidatures. Only under exceptional circumstances requiring the approval of the IOC President will new candidates be considered.

“By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, we want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”

The ROA team for Rio 2016 is expected to number between five and 10 athletes. The participating athletes and the other members of the ROA team will be named by the IOC Executive Board at its next meeting in June this year. The nomination criteria include sporting level, official refugee status verified by the United Nations, and personal situation and background.

The full release can be seen here.

The press release about Yusra Mardini, IOC, March 18

 

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