NAIROBI, Kenya, JUL 12 – Following their participation at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and the IAAF World Relays Bahamas 2017, the athlete refugee team is ready for yet another first.
Lydia Philip Mamun (400m), Sunday Kamisa Peter (800m) and Mohammed Ahmed Abubakar (1500m) will compete at the IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017. Mamun and Peter are originally from South Sudan while Abubakar is from Ethiopia.
Over the past 12 months, the athlete refugee team has been a source of motivation for millions around the world. For these athletes the word ‘home’ does not always hold the same meaning or memories as it would for many people, but when they step on the track at Kasarani Stadium, they will be at home.
The athletes live and train in a refugee camp run by former marathon world record-holder Tegla Loroupe in Ngong, a town 28 kilometres from the Kenyan capital. On the eve of the competition, IAAF President Sebastian Coe visited the team at their base and Loroupe proudly showed Coe around the new gymnasium, which is due to completed at the end of the year, the new accommodation, and a small medical unit. There are even cows to provide fresh milk and chickens to provide fresh eggs.
The IAAF helped in funding the foundation in its infancy. Coe, the first leader of a sports organisation to visit a project of this kind, expressed his pride at the strides made by the camp and explained how supporting the team speaks to the values of the sport.
“I know from my own experience that Kenyan athletes are humble off the track, tenacious competitors on the track, but have the propensity to put back into their sport post their careers,” said Coe.
“Tegla first spoke to me before the London 2012 Olympic Games. She had a vision, she delivered on that vision, and she took the team to Rio. We were very proud as the IAAF to contribute a modest sum of money to allow the project to rise from the ground. Today was the example of passion, of vision and humanity.
“Our sport is so well placed to serve communities that are hard pressed in neighbourhoods where the challenges are so unappreciated by people who live in a large part of the world. There are children in the world, including my own four, who can’t begin to contemplate the challenges that you’ve encountered, and we should recognise that
Develop your careers as well as you possibly can,” Coe said to the young athletes at the camp. “But beyond your careers, it’s important to put back. The best example you have is the woman standing next to me, Tegla, who finished her career and put back. And she put back in a way that has given you the opportunity to pursue your careers. But you have a responsibility, as we all do, to go on serving the sport in whichever way you can, encouraging your children to take up the sport, your grandchildren to take up the sport, but also making sure there is a really strong legacy with what Tegla has created.”
The three athletes arrived at the camp in 2016 and are now students at a nearby school. Loroupe has helped instil in them a balance between education and spor.
“I came from a difficult background which taught me not to lose hope,” said Loroupe. “I tell these athletes if I did it then you can do it as well; not just in sport, but in education too, which is just as important.
Abubakar and Peter are from the Kakuma refugee camp while Mamun is from the Daadab refugee camp. 17-year-old Abubakar was motivated to take up athletics by a compatriot at his camp, Kadar Omar.
Omar, a 5000m specialist, will be part of the athlete refugee team set to compete at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 and he is excited at the prospect of lining up against his idol, Olympic champion Mo Farah, calling it a dream come true.
The under-18 athletes, meanwhile, hope that their participation in Nairobi can set them on the path to athletics success, which in turn can give others hope.