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The second team

Copyrights: National Olympic Committee of Portugal

The second team

Rio 2016 was the first time a Refugee Olympic Team participated, giving hope to millions of displaced people across the world. Since then, the National Olympic Committee of Portugal has been an active proponent of the cause, supporting two members who might be a part of the Team in Tokyo 2021.

This article is a response to our call for articles on sport and refugees. If you would like to contribute, you can find out more here.

They enter the Olympic Stadium after the Greek delegation: they are the second team.

They speak different languages, from remote places on earth or from places not so distant after all. In their heterogeneity, they represent a single people, more than 80 million of fleeing people who share pain and hope. They all fled from violence, persecution, devastation and tragedy… here, in the much awaited opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, they are thrilled with the opening parade that will distinguish them for life.

At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, left a message of hope for all the refugees in the world: "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”. Years later, with Tokyo in sight, it is still necessary to reinforce this message and 50 refugee athletes still dream of this opportunity.

In Portugal, two young refugees train hard to join the Refugee Olympic Team (EOR as an official acronym). With the same courage and the same persistence that brought them to us, now, with the postponement of Tokyo 2020, they keep trying to survive the physical and mental adversities of the mandatory confinement and try to keep themselves in shape to qualify and be able to fulfil the Olympic dream.

Between the place they left and slowly finding new roots in the place where they are, sport becomes their homeland. Every challenge boxer Farid Walizadeh (b. 1997, Afghanistan) and sprinter Dorian Keletela (b. 1999, Congo) face is met with bravery and determination. The way they reacted, even before the postponement of OG Tokyo 2020, to being prevented for reaching the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in London and to the cancellation of the selection stage in Qatar, showed the resilience of these young athletes who make us believe in the extraordinary strength of human nature.

In fact, before their arrival, most of us were far from the refugee drama. Their arrival challenged us to mobilize wills, open our arms with a smile, discover resources and means that were waiting to be activated ... and something changed. It had to change because we cannot be indifferent to the other, who, after all, could be one of us.

Sport is recognized as a path to development and social inclusion. Without fearing inexperience, going beyond the enthusiasm of the media moment and the commotion of strong images, the National Olympic Committee of Portugal has mobilized itself and outstretched its arms (in what they represent in terms of concrete actions) to welcome these two promising refugee athletes… and more. Since 2016, it has provided sports equipment for the practice of a wide range of sports activities to around a thousand refugees, and followed the integration in sport associations of those with sport capabilities for competition.

Twenty-five minors from Greece's refugee camps have arrived recently on national territory. For now, boys aged between 15 and 17 from three nationalities: Afghans, Egyptians and Iranians, out of a total of 500 minors who will be relocated to Portugal. We cannot pretend we don't see that and hide behind excuses to avoid doing anything.

Yes, it is possible to make things happen. Yes, it is possible to change lives. Yes, it is possible to do even more. Not like an act of magic, but with real actions, sometimes painful, sometimes jubilant. We are all summoned to offer this second (or third, or fourth ...) chance to start over, finding partners in the community who, within their areas of intervention, can make a contribution, without imposing, so that these young people can build their life project.

What dreams will these newcomers have? Who knows maybe an Olympic dream?

The seconds are the first. The second team!

Maria Machado is Project Manager at the National Olympic Committee of Portugal


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Maria Machado


Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 17:21