By Gregory Felder
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it will sponsor an all-refugee team to compete at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. As the refugee population approaches that of Israel and Sweden combined, the IOC felt now was the time for the first such team in history.
“By welcoming the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes to the Olympic Games Rio 2016, we want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.
Team Refugee Olympic Athletes (Team ROA) will represent the 20 million plus refugees worldwide and give them a team to call their own. They will participate in every part of the Olympic Games, including the journey of the Olympic torch, which will be carried by a refugee through a refugee camp in Athens, Greece. Not only is Greece the birthplace of the Olympics, but it has been the center for the refugee crisis in Europe.
The IOC will choose from 43 potential athletes already identified as possible contenders and announce a roster of 5-10 athletes in June. Team ROA will wear jerseys provided by the IOC and have the Olympic flag raised and the Olympic anthem played for the opening ceremony.
“Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem,” said Bach. “They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”
According to the Guardian, three of the potential team members have been revealed. They were a Syrian swimmer, a Congolese judoka, and an Iranian taekwondo fighter. The other 40 athletes have not yet been announced, but CNN has a list of some of the top refugee athletes likely to be considered.