Following the delay associated with last year's Covid-19 pandemic, the Summer Olympic Games began on July 23, 2021. A total of 11326 athletes from all over the world enrolled in them, taking part in 339 disciplines. Among them, 29 athletes competing under the EOR flag - Équipe Olympique des Réfugiés, an team made up of refugees from 11 countries, respresenting 12 sport disciplines.
The creation of the EOR was announced in October 2015 at the UN General Assembly in the face of the global refugee crisis. According to the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, this was to become "a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world, and at the same time make people aware of the magnitude of this crisis". Many of the athletes selected for the EOR were forced to flee from countries affected by the war, thus preventing them from preparing and representing their country. EOR performed for the first time at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The number of participants (10) at that time had almost tripled this year. The very process of recruiting and admitting athletes to the competition was carried out in cooperation with UNHCR. At the opening ceremony, the team is second after Greece, and in the event of a win, the Olympic anthem is played.
This year's participants and EOR members were announced on July 8, 2021. Among them were: Abdullah Sediqi, Ahmad Alikaj, Ahmad Badreddin Wais, Aker Al Obaidi, Alaa Maso, Anjelina Nadai Lohalith, Aram Mahmoud, Cyrille Fagat Tchatchet II, Dina Pangerelouryounes , Eldric Samuel Sella Rodriguez, Hamoon Derafshipour, Jamal Abdelmaji Eisa Mohammed, James Chiengjiek Nyang, Javad Mahjoub, Kimia Alizadeh Zenozi, Luna Solomon, Masomah Ali Zada, Muna Dahouk, Nigara Shaheen, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Sae Misidengaen, Sae Misidenga, Fazloula, Sanda Aldass, Tachlowini Gabriyesos, Wael Shueb, Wessam Salamana, Yusra Mardini. They come from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, South Sudan and Iran. The players were selected from among 56 candidates. Each of them is a beneficiary of a scholarship for refugee athletes - thanks to it, through the National Olympic Committees, promising athletes have a chance to train and prepare in countries where they have obtained refugee status.
Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer, said in an interview that the sport saved her life. It was not a metaphor - while escaping from a war-torn country, it was her (along with her sister and two other people) who jumped into the water and towed the sinking boat to the shore of the island of Lesbos.
Iran's Kimia Alizadeh competed as a taekwondo player and came close to winning her first EOR medal. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she won a bronze medal under her country's flag, the first such award for an Iranian woman. The joy of victory did not last long - the feeling of being used by the Iranian government, as well as increasing threats, prompted her to flee her homeland. Membership in EOR gave her a chance to continue her sports career. After escaping, she thought she would have to give up Taekwondo - "now she can do both, be a free woman and play her sport" .
Popole Misenga, a judoka from the Democratic Republic of Congo, began judo training at a center for displaced children in Kinshasa, where he ended up when his mother was murdered. He comes from Bukavu, one of the areas most affected by the civil war (1998-2003). In his opinion, participation in the Games changed his life and gave him the feeling that "he does not have to worry everyday about feeding his family".
Each of the players competing under the EOR flag has their own refugee history, full of fear, sacrifices, but also courage and persistence. Although the Olympic Games in Tokyo that ended today (08/08/2021) did not bring the team placements on the podium or medals, they are still a symbol of the integration of athletes in an international environment and opportunities for further development of those who were denied such a chance in their homelands.