Total of 43 athletes globally earmarked to compete in refugee team at Rio
Up to 10 athletes will be selected and compete under Olympic flag
In contention is a teen who swum 20 people to safety after their boat took on water
A judoka escaped war-torn DR Congo to seek asylum in Brazil and target place at the Games
A team made up exclusively of refugees is set to compete under the Olympic flag at this summer’s Games in Rio de Janeiro.
A shortlist of 43 sportsmen and women has been compiled, with the International Olympic Committee saying as many as 10 would get the go-ahead to take part at the Olympics.
Among those in contention is 17-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, who fled from Syria on an inflatable boat headed to the Greek Island of Lesbos from Turkey.
When the boat started taking on water, Mardini and her sister Sarah got in the water and swum the vessel and the 20 people on board to safety.
Mardini, who now lives in Germany with her family, has since been one of a number of refugee athletes to receive funding from a $2 million IOC scholarship fund specifically aimed at aiding refugees.
The team in Rio will be known as the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA), IOC president Thomas Bach announced this week, and will be the penultimate team into the Olympic Stadium before hosts Brazil.
“We have all been touched by the magnitude of this refugee crisis,” Bach told reporters after a two-day IOC executive board meeting in Lausanne.
“By welcoming ROA to the Olympic Games in Rio, we want to send a message of hope to all the refugees of the world. This team will be treated like all the other teams.
“This team may end up between five and 10 people maybe. We have no target – it depends very much on the sporting qualifications.”
An Iranian refugee in Belgium is likely to be one of those on the ROA team having qualified via a European tournament in January.
Raheleh Asemani, who now works as a postwoman, explained: “Hope has carried me to the Olympics. Now I will give all I have to win.”
Also in contention is judoka Yolande Mabika, who escaped war in the Democratic Republic of Congo three years ago and sought asylum in Brazil.
Of her hopes of competing under the IOC flag, she said: “I cannot fight for my country. I will fight for the Olympics, I will fight for all the refugees in the world. Judo is my life. It helped me escape war, to take another path.”
Mabika also said she hoped competing in Rio would enable her family to find her – she has had no contact with them for three years.