IOC approves ‘Refugee Olympics Team’ for 2020 Tokyo Games

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International Olympic Committee has approved to field a “Refugee Olympic Team” at the 2020 Tokyo Games. The decision was taken by the International Olympic Committee membership at the 133rd IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in continuation of the Olympic movement’s commitment to address the global refugee crisis.

The Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 will be announced in the Olympic year.

IOC President Thomas Bach said, “The IOC Session has once again endorsed this initiative. In an ideal world, we would not need to have a Refugee Team at the Olympic Games. But, unfortunately, the reasons why we first created a Refugee Olympic Team before the Olympic Games Rio 2016 continue to persist. We will do our utmost to welcome refugee athletes and give them a home and a flag in the Olympic Village in Tokyo with all the Olympic athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees. This is the continuation of an exciting, human and Olympic journey, and a reminder to refugees that they are not forgotten.”

Olympic Solidarity has been mandated to establish the conditions for participation and define the identification and selection process of the team. The process will be completed in close collaboration with the National Olympic Committees, the International Sports Federations, the Organising Committee Tokyo 2020 and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, IOC has stated in an article on its official website.

UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi commended the decision. “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. 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,” he said.

Back in 2015, the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team was formed by the IOC. Ten athletes were chosen to represent people who are too often forgotten. It was a historic moment in Brazil when a team consisting of refugees participated for the first time ever in the Olympic Games at Rio 2016. As they marched in the Opening Ceremony, two swimmers, two judokas, a marathon runner and five middle-distance runners who originally hailed from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo became instant role models for the 68.5 million or so refugees and internally displaced people, and true global ambassadors for the values of Olympism.

Since the Olympic Games, the IOC has continued to support these 10 Refugee Olympians, as well as a number of other refugee athletes across five continents via Olympic Solidarity’s Refugee Athlete Support Programme. Through scholarships, which come in the form of monthly training grants and fixed competition subsidies, Olympic Solidarity and their host National Olympic Committees help these refugee athletes to prepare for and participate in national and international competitions. UNHCR, through its long term collaboration with the IOC, plays a crucial role in all stages of selection, approval and follow up of the athletes.

Furthermore, in September 2017, the IOC launched the Olympic Refuge Foundation to support more broadly the protection and empowerment of vulnerable displaced people through sport and through the creation of safe spaces; again, partnering with UNHCR and local implementation partners in the field.

For the last 20 years, and with the collaboration of UNHCR, the IOC has been providing relief to refugees and internally displaced people by using the power of sport to promote youth development, education, social integration and health. These actions have brought the joy of sport and the related psychological healing to refugee populations in many camps and settlements around the world.

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