Athletics Athletics

IOC names first-ever refugee team for Olympics

South Sudanese refugees from the Kakuma refugee camp train at Kenya's rugged Ngong hills ©Simon Maina (AFP)
South Sudanese refugees from the Kakuma refugee camp train at Kenya’s rugged Ngong hills ©Simon Maina (AFP)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, June 3 – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday named 10 members to the first-ever refugee team to compete at the Olympic Games.

The Rio de Janeiro-bound team includes two Syrian swimmers, five track athletes from South Sudan, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an Ethiopian marathon runner.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters after the organisation’s executive board confirmed the group at a meeting in Lausanne.

“We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village,” he added.

The head of the UN refugee agency Filippo Grandi hailed the unprecedented team as “a tribute to the courage and perseverance” of all those forced to flee from their home countries.

The team will be headed by Kenyan runner Tegla Loroupe, a world record holder in several long-distance competitions and the first African woman to win the New York City marathon.

Her foundation also includes a refugee athletic support programme.

The biggest migrant crisis since World War Two, sparked largely by people fleeing Syria’s civil war, has fuelled rising anti-migrant rhetoric across Europe and in the United States.

Bach voiced hope that the first-ever Olympic level refugee team can “send a signal to the international community”.

“Despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society,” he told reporters.