In 2015 65 million people were displaced from their home due to war, violent conflict or natural disaster. In that same year the IOC announced the creation of an Olympic refugee emergency fund and Olympic Team as a way to support refugees and help integrate them into sport.
As the number of displaced people rises (it was 79.5 million in 2019, and 85 million in 2020) this programme becomes a beacon of hope for many, as IOC president Thomas Bach says: This (team) will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the 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.
In Rio 2016, 10 athletes from 3 sports including athletics took part, and this number has almost tripled in 2020 with 29 athletes at the Tokyo Games.
World Champion long distance Kenyan runner, and global ambassador or peace, women’s rights and education, Tegla Loroupe is the chef de mission for the Olympic Refugee Team. Tegla is 5x World Half Marathon Champion, 2x World Champion in the 10,000m and became the first black woman to win a major marathon when she won the New York City Marathon in 1994.
She has established the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation and organizes an annual series of Peace Marathons in Kenya, Sudan and Uganda – trying to resolve conflicts with reconciliation instead of weapons. Her motto is “Peace, unity through sports” and she feels strongly about treating refugees with dignity, saying “People treat these refugees like criminals, we need to treat them with respect. I want to help them and I think I have the strength to prove that even small people can do something big”.