IOC Makes Room for Refugees at 2016 Olympics

The International Olympic Committee has identified 43 refugees from around the world as potential competitors for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The IOC this week announced its plan for allowing the athletes to compete as part of a special refugee team—a decision that reflects current geopolitical trends.

The athletes may not have a permanent country to call home, but they will have a team to play for during this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) this week announced a plan to create the Team Refugee Olympic Athletes, which is expected to include up to 10 of the 43 competitors. These athletes will represented by the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem, and they will be housed in the Olympic Village alongside other teams.

In discussing the reasoning for the decision by the organization’s executive board, IOC President Thomas Bach explained that the hope is to show support and solidarity for those displaced, most in the wake of civil war.

“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,” Bach said in a statement.

This approach, while new, is not the first time IOC has directly involved itself with assisting refugees. For two decades the organization has worked closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to offer sports programs and equipment in resettlement and refugee camps.

And last September, the IOC set aside $2 million for National Olympic Committees to assist with the refugee crisis affecting the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The fund will help pay for the Team Refugee and its coaches.

“The Olympic Games are the time when the values of tolerance, solidarity, and peace are brought to life. This is the time when the international community comes together for peaceful competition,” Bach told the U.N. General Assembly in late October, when the refugee idea was first announced.

Rio's Maraca Stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games will be held. (iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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