By: Jocelyn Schwalm
This year’s Olympics are a far cry from the usual fun-spirited world games that take place every four years. Suffice to say, the lead up to this year’s Olympic Games has not garnered the traditional hype that usually surrounds this type of global sports event. With Zika virus, extreme pollution, protests over costs and Russia being largely excluded, this year’s Olympics have been met with a fair amount of controversy in all areas. But now there is a group of athletes who understand what it means to thrive in the face of adversity.
The Olympic Refugee team is currently making global news as they are being credited for the burst of optimism the games needed. With all the controversy surrounding refugees worldwide, it is a breath of fresh air to consider this group an asset to the games, as opposed to the burdensome presence they are so often labelled with. The team, composed of 10 athletes – 6 men and 4 women – from countries such as Syria, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been able to add another dimension to the way the world views them.
Gololcha Boru, a soccer coach of a refugee team in Manitoba, says that this sort of global stage is humanizing the athletes for all the people watching from the comfort of their homes. Most people only take what they see in the news to form a quick opinion of refugees, but the ability to see them in another context opens up a more empathetic conversation surrounding their difficult circumstances.
Due to the high volume of children watching the Olympic Games, the popular children’s show Sesame Street has attempted to explain the concept of a refugee team to a child-audience. Allowing children to see that not everyone was raised in the same safe environment and with as many opportunities, offers a lesson in humility to those watching.
With 40 million people displaced worldwide, the refugees taking part in the Olympics aren’t by any means an isolated group. The importance of this team goes far beyond the biggest sports competition in the world. The team serves as an indication to young refugee children that despite their current circumstances, there is always hope for the future. It gives the children something to strive for and the opportunity for them to relate to positive role-models who have come from the same tough beginnings as them. Many of the refugee athletes speak of the early misfortune they’ve had to face as contributing to their drive to do well and represent their fellow refugees in a positive way.
As we get further into the 2016 Rio Olympics, it is a comforting thought that this year the games will offer more than just friendly competition, but a window into what will hopefully turn out to be the beginning of a positive future for refugees displaced from their homes worldwide.