Represent! Refugees teams in Sports

Over the last decades, physical activity, more specifically sports, has become very competitive at national and international levels. Athletes who rank highest in their countries often participate in international competitions. What about refugees and sports competitions? Are there opportunities for refugees to participate in sports at a high level? Taking the Olympics as an example, in 2016, for the first time in its history, 10 refugees were competing without a national team. While a new development, it must be noted that for over 25 years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has with the UNHCR (the United Nations Refugee Agency), provided access to sport for young people affected by displacement.

“This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”

IOC President Thomas Bach – 2016

It was during the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in October 2015, in the midst of the global refugee crisis that IOC President Thomas Bach announced the formation of the Refugee Olympic Team to take part in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Liaising with the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), the IOC identified refugee athletes across the globe and around the world. A dedicated Olympic Solidarity programme for refugee athletes has some 1,600 athletes from 185 NOCs currently benefiting from Olympic Scholarships.

Through this programme, refugee athletes are supported not only to train with the aim of qualifying for the Olympic Games, but to continue their sporting career and build their future.

In the 2020 Olympics, the Refugee Olympic Team, as announced in June 2021 was composed of 29 Refugee Athlete Scholarship-holders (including 4 athletes from the International Judo Federation Refugee Project) from 11 countries who have been living and training in 13 host countries. Meet the team here!

Some facts about their participation in the 2020 Olympics:

  • The official acronym for the Refugee Olympic Team is EOR. This is based on the French name: équipe olympique des réfugiés.
  • During the Opening Ceremony, the team marched with the Olympic flag in second position, immediately after Greece.
  • For all official representations of the team, the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic anthem will be played.
  • Like all the other 206 NOCs taking part in the Olympic Games, the team will stay at the Olympic Village and get its own welcome ceremony there.

And as for the future of EOR in the Olympics? In March 2021, the IOC decided that there will be a Refugee Olympic Team for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 as well as for the Youth Olympic Games in Dakar 2026.

That is not all, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) also have six athletes representing the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT) at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Meet the team here.

Otherwise at the end of 2020, the Special Olympics and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency signed a global Memorandum of Understanding to formalize a growing partnership benefiting refugees of all abilities and solidify a shared commitment to empower refugees through inclusive sports.

These teams are a great example of how international organisations are living true to the rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration as well as being inclusive, a beacon of hope and raising awareness on the reality of today’s world and how refugees should be embraced as they enrich our society.

IOC President and HC UNHCR meet the EOR at the Olympic Village

TOKYO – JAPAN – 22 July 2021: Members of the Olympic Refugee Team at the Olympic Village in Tokyo ahead of TOKYO 2020, the XXXII IOC Olympic Games.

Don’t forget that you can run/walk/cycle/swim at your own pace for Running4Rights, wherever, whenever you want between the 1st and 8th May 2022. Please do sign up here.

Check in over the next few days for more information on human rights, health and physical activity! In the meantime check out the following related Running4Rights posts:



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