History was made at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio when the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) competed on the world’s stage for the first time. Now there will be a second team comprised of refugees at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
“In 2016, the Rio refugee team captured the imagination of people around the world and showed the human side of the global refugee crisis through sport,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
“I’m delighted that this tradition is to continue in Tokyo. Giving these exceptional young people the opportunity to compete at the very highest levels is admirable.”
In 2016, 10 refugees from four countries united to form their own team and compete in swimming, judo, and marathon and middle distance running events.
One such athlete is freestyle and butterfly swimmer Yusra Mardini, a 19-year-old who fled war-torn Syria by boat with her sister when their family became homeless.
During their pilgrimage to the Greek Island of Lesbos in 2015, the boat’s motor stopped working. As longtime competitive swimmers, Mardini and her sister, along with a few others, jumped in the water and pushed the boat to shore. It took them three hours, but all 20 refugees made it safely to Europe.
Eventually, Mardini and her sister worked their way to Berlin, where they lived in a refugee camp, reunited with their father and joined a local swimming club.
Today, Mardini is an official Under Armour brand ambassador.
“I shouldn’t be alive today,”Mardini said in one of the brand’s television spots. “I should have been killed by the bomb that hit the pool in Damascus. I should have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. I should have been one of the many faces who died along the way, but I am here, alive, because I kept moving.”
And she’s thrilled that she gets the chance to qualify for the team and compete in another Olympics.
“I’m proud I represented the Refugee Olympic Team once and am so happy that a team will compete in Tokyo again,” she said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to earn a spot in the team. I wish the best of luck to all the other refugee athletes in the world.”