A team of refugees who have left war-torn countries will compete in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
The Olympic ideal of fair competition in the proud representation of one’s home country has taken a beating in recent years.
Doping scandals permeate almost every competition, and no one knows who is actually competing fairly. Professionals are now competing in most sports as amateur sports take a backseat to those paid to perform. Cities and entire countries suffer the economic pains of supporting the Olympic cause by hosting the games, only to find out that no one wants or needs the huge infrastructure of stadiums and venues that are built to house the games for the three weeks of competition.
But sometimes, the Olympic ideal again rears its head.
In response to the Syrian migrant march out of a war-torn country into the relatively safer realms of southern Europe, the International Olympic Committee decided to allow a team of refugee athletes to compete in the Olympic Games. As announced by IOC President Thomas Bach, these athletes “having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played’’, would be allowed to represent themselves in the Summer Games in Rio de Janiero.
An initial list of 43 athletes was issued by the IOC, and an official final list of 10 athletes came out this week. It includes a judo master from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Brazil and a taekwondo master from Iran living in Belgium. Athletes originally from Ethiopia and the South Sudan are also on the “team”.
Without question, the most stirring part of the Olympics is the Opening Ceremonies, when all of the athletes representing all of the countries march into a stadium behind a flag-bearer holding the drapery that bears the symbol of that country. This year in Rio, the immigrant team will walk in behind the Olympic flag with the five colored rings. They will be the next-to-last team to march, preceding the host country team from Brazil.
With them will be their 15 team officials provided by the Olympics to offer coaching, training and technical support. Like all the other Olympic athletes, the refuges will live in the Olympic village.
The IOC, in what has to be considered the best decision it has made in decades, said the refugees “will act as a symbol of hope for refugees worldwide and bring global attention to the magnitude of the refugee crisis.”
Each refugee has a story to tell, but none quite as dramatic perhaps as that of Yusra Mardini, a swimmer from Syria. She and her sister fled Damascus to Beirut, then reached Turkey, where they paid a human trafficker to let them join others on an inflatable raft to get to the Greek island of Lesbos last year.
During the trip, the boat began to sink, and Mardini and her sister swam for four hours, pulling the dinghy filled with the other passengers behind them.
“I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned at sea because I am a simmer,’’ Mardini said in a press conference in Germany upon arrival in Germany, where she received political asylum.
Mardini applied to compete in the Olympics, but she could not represent Germany, and Syria was not going to support an athlete who left the country. In fact, Syria may not field a national team in this year’s competition.
“I want to make all the refugees proud of me,’’ Mardini said when the IOC announced her participation in the Olympics. “It would show that even if we had a tough journey, we can achieve something.”
If the Olympics no longer interest you, this summer’s event might be worthy of a second look. There is a team you can root for besides the one representing your own homeland.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.