Wikipedia states that the mission of the Olympic Spirit is “to build a peaceful and better world … which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity, and fair play … promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”
Earlier this month, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced the first Refugee Olympic Team to play under the Olympic flag. The team includes two refugees from Syria, five from South Sudan, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one from Ethiopia.
These 10 athletes will act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis when they take part in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer. The athletes will march with the Olympic flag immediately before host nation Brazil at the Opening Ceremony.
The inclusion of these refugees — who receive a form of humanitarian relief that allows them to legally stay in host countries — coincides with the world’s largest influx of forcibly displaced people since World War II. IOC President Thomas Bach said, “It is a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”
Most refugee stories tend to focus on hardship and tragedy. According to PEW Research, refugees have been met with disdainful public opinion in the United States. Attitudes are often divided along party lines, with 59 percent of citizens saying immigrants strengthen the country and 33 percent calling them a burden.
Given the Olympic-sized audiences Rio will bring, the stories of the refugee athletes will provide a powerful opportunity for those working to improve the refugee crisis. The more that people understand what a refugee is and what a refugee has gone through, the more likely people will welcome them into this country, and help them build new lives free of persecution or conflict.
The Olympic flame is lit in the months prior to the Olympic Games and travels around various countries. For this event, a 12-year-old Syrian schoolgirl, Hanan Dacka, bore the flame on the first stage of its relay across Brazil. Along its route, the flame is passed between many torches and relay runners and conveys a message of peace and friendship.
Dacka, her parents, brother, and baby sister benefitted from peace and friendship and the South American country’s “open door” policy toward survivors of the war in Syria. They had spent two-and-a-half years at a refugee camp in Jordan prior to arriving in Brazil a year ago.
We applaud the actions of the IOC to highlight the struggle of refugees and for allowing these 10 elite athletes to display their athletic prowess on a world stage.