Middle Eastern athletes to compete on Tokyo Olympics refugee team

Middle Eastern athletes to compete on Tokyo Olympics refugee team
2 min read
The team has 29 athletes across 12 sports, including a 2016 Olympic medallist who left Iran citing institutional sexism.
The 29 refugee athletes will compete across 12 sports [Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty]

The refugee team for the Tokyo Olympics will feature competitors from Middle Eastern nations including Afghanistan, Sudan and Syria.

The team has 29 athletes competing in 12 sports, including a medallist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games who left Iran citing institutional sexism.

The team, selected by the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday, was drawn from 55 athletes who fled their home countries and got scholarships to train for the Summer Games in a new home country.

Kimia Alizadeh is among them five years after she became the first Iranian women to win an Olympic medal. She took bronze in taekwondo at age 18.

Alizadeh is based in Germany after she defected from Iran and criticized the country's hijab mandate.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she told reporters in Germany in January last year.

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The 29 athletes — a rise from 10 in the inaugural refugee team at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics — are also originally from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela.

They will compete in swimming, athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, shooting, taekwondo, weightlifting, and wrestling.

“You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms.” IOC president Thomas Bach told the athletes when announcing their selection, adding they would “send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world.”

The team will be managed in Tokyo by officials from the IOC and the United Nations’ Geneva-based refugee agency, the UNHCR.

"Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people,” UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi said in a statement, “but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride.”

The refugee athletes will compete against 206 national teams with identifier EOR, for the French acronym of the team name. The Tokyo Olympics are from 23 July to 8 August.