Young Syrian refugee in Egypt. Photo by AFP

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has added another team to the roster of 206 National Olympic Committees, this time it’s for young athletes caught in the middle of living their lives as refugees due to displacement and conflict in their countries. Called the Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA), 43 athletes have been identified so far and will be welcomed in the Opening Ceremony at the Rio 2016 Games just like all other countries, housed in the Olympic Village, provided uniforms, and for official representation and medal ceremonies, the Olympic flag will be raised and the Olympic Anthem played.

The Refugee Olympic Team will march behind the Olympic flag before host team Brazil at the Opening Ceremony and Olympic Solidarity will cover travel and other participation expenses for the team and will continue to support the athletes of the team after the Olympic Games.
As part of the IOC’s pledge to aid potential elite athletes affected by the worldwide refugee crisis, the NOCs were asked to identify any refugee athlete with the potential to qualify for the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Such candidates could then receive funding from Olympic Solidarity to assist with their preparations and qualification efforts.

“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. “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. They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”

The final ROA team for Rio 2016 is expected to number between five and 10 athletes. The participating athletes and the other members of the ROA team will be named by the IOC Executive Board at its next meeting in June this year. The nomination criteria include sporting level, official refugee status verified by the United Nations, and personal situation and background.

Following the approval of Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement, and in light of the current global refugee crisis, the IOC created a special fund of USD 2 million to develop relief projects through sport in collaboration with NOCs around the world.

The IOC already works with a number of United Nations agencies to help refugees around the world. For the last 20 years, the IOC and UNHCR in particular have been using sport to support healing and development among young refugees in many camps and settlements around the world. They have consequently seen thousands of refugees benefit from sports programs and equipment donated by the IOC.