Refugees primed to pump up Games feel-good factor

Mon Jul 25, 2016 1:55pm EDT
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By Karolos Grohmann

BERLIN (Reuters) - When record Olympic champion Michael Phelps and the king of sprinting Usain Bolt resume their hunt for world records and gold medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next month they will not be the only big stories in town.

A team of refugees, hand-picked by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is expected to hog the spotlight from the very first day when they march as an independent team into the Olympic stadium just before hosts Brazil at the opening ceremony on Aug. 5.

The IOC in June unveiled its first team of refugees which will have 10 members and 12 officials and will compete under the Olympic flag, as part of its decision to highlight the plight of refugees worldwide.

More than a million refugees streamed into Europe in the past year alone as they fled fighting in Syria and other countries.

Millions more are housed in camps in countries across the world, having escaped dozens of wars or armed conflicts in their home nations.

The Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) includes five athletes from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia.

"These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world," IOC President Bach said.

"The Olympic anthem will be played in their honor and the Olympic flag will lead them into the Olympic Stadium. This 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."   Continued...

Rose Nathike Lokonyen and James Nyang Chiengjiek, refugees from South Sudan, part of the refugee athletes who qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics, stretch during a training session at their camp in Ngong township near Kenya's capital Nairobi, June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya