With the Olympics in full swing and the fitness studio Melbourne back open, it is impossible not to feel excited when an athlete representing our nation gets out and competes. We have been witnesses to people showing the best of humanities physical capacities, who have valiantly fought their way through all sorts of obstacles in order to get to the legendary event held once every 4 years.
What we sometimes forget is that their fight is not only getting out there and doing their very best. They have, in fact, been fighting every day for years, if not decades, to have the opportunity to represent their country and their people.
From waking up every single day at 4 am to train to keeping a regime each time being harder a harder to follow, always having a dream. There is, however, a team that has put up much more fight than most. For them, training was the easy part. They have escaped war torn countries, faced cultural sexism, some of them have swam through the ocean carrying behind a boat with their families. This is the EOR Olympic Team (équipe olympique des réfugiés).
“Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people, but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride.”
— UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi.
At the opening ceremony, just after the Greek delegation proudly raised their flag, another flag came into the stage. This flag has only been seen at the Olympics 2 times in history. Once in Rio 2016 and then this year, Tokyo 2020. This flag is the flag of the EOR Olympic Team. The Refugee Olympic Team was originally created by the International Olympic Committee in the hope of allowing athletes to compete even if they have been forced to leave their home countries.
29 athletes competing in 12 sports make up this remarkable team. At first glance, this team might seem to be different from every other one, as they don’t represent one specific country. But if you stop and listen to these athletes stories, you will see that each of these athletes are the most honest resemblance of the best humanity can offer. Not only in their physical capacities, but also their mental skills and their fighting spirits.
The International Olympic Committee announced the creation of a refugee team after witnessing the effects the war in Syria was having on the general population, including so many athletes that were directly affected. The IOC encouraged national Olympic officials to look up for displaced or affected athletes around the world. These 29 athletes are originally from countries that have had any type of internal struggle or political situation that has produced any type of hardship. Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela. These athletes went into a new host country where they trained and developed their skills to be at a top level when the big date came. Each athlete carries an inspirational story where the resilience and conviction has overcome the hardest of obstacles. They have been through some events that most of us can’t even imagine and now they are standing proud at the start line of their chosen sports at the Olympic Games.
“Dear refugee athletes: With your talent and human spirit, you are demonstrating what an enrichment refugees are for society. You had to flee from your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different. Today, we welcome you with open arms and offer you a peaceful home. Welcome to our Olympic community.”
— IOC president Thomas Bach, speaking at the opening ceremony.
Next time you see an Olympic event, look up for the official 5 rings flag or the unofficial orange flag with the black stripe. These flags represent the struggle some of us can only imagine, the fight against the adversity, it represents the silver lining for those who can only see tragedy. These athletes may not be representing any country in particular, but they are representing all of us and our ancestors. The stand for those brave men and women who left their countries and travelled into the unknown looking for a better future for themselves and their families. There is a bit of us in every single one of them. Next time see one member of the EOR Olympic team, give them a cheer, even if it is a small one, as they represent resilience, consistency, hope and faith, the same values that are hidden in every single one of us.