The 2016 Rio Olympics saw the addition of a special team that does not carry a flag, national anthem or share a common home. The Refugee Olympic Team (ROT)-made up of 43 refugees who were displaced from their lives in South Sudan, Ethiopia and Congo-was formed by the International Olympic Committee to also bring global attention to this growing global crisis.
Part of the refugee team is Yusra Mardini, who left Syria, to look for a better life in Germany. While fleeing her war torn country, the Olympic swimmer saved 20 lives by pushing their sinking boat which was carrying 20 people, but was only meant for six.
Most of the people in the boat did not know how to swim, which prompted Mardini, along with her sister and two other swimmers to jump into the sea and keep the boat from capsizing, for three grueling hours. Exhausted, Mardini and the rest of the refugees reached Lesbos, eventually making their way to Germany, a place she now calls home.
Mardini continued her training in Germany, and was eventually identified as a candidate and eventual representative of the ROT.
“This (ROT) will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that, despite the unimaginable tragedies they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.” Said Thomas Bach, IOC president, in a press announcement for the ROT.
And the 18-year-old Mardini stands as a model of this symbol, recently winning her heat in the 100m butterfly.
Though she is unable to advance in her event, she has become quite popular in the Olympics, not because the Olympic swimmer saved 20 lives as a refugee, but because she is a human-being who defied adversity and embodied the Olympics’ message of strength and hope.
PHOTO COURTESY: Ben Sutherland/ Flickr