The Olympics’ #TeamRefugees Campaign Brings Out The Shared Humanity In Sports

These refugees’ journey to Rio is a different one than most of their fellow athletes, but the goal is the same.

The Olympics’ #TeamRefugees Campaign Brings Out The Shared Humanity In Sports

WHAT: A campaign–led by a 60-second spot that profiles a young Iraqi boxer named Abdullah, whose family fled their home after he was kidnapped–to showcase the 10-person “Team Refugees” competing in the Olympics this year.

WHO: UNICEF, UNHCR, Purpose, UNIT9, Lefty

WHY WE CARE: Abdullah, whose last name is under wraps because his family isn’t entirely safe yet, stars in the video, but the team that has inspired him deserves as much of the spotlight. They are track and field athletes James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel, Rose Lokonyen, Anjelina Lohalith, and Paulo Lokoro of South Sudan, Syrian swimmers Popole Misenga and Yusra Mardini, judoka Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopian marathoner Yonas Kinde.

The true value of sports is in how they bring people together in the spirit of competition and shared experiences. Not only does the Team Refugees campaign bring together the 10 members of the team and give them a chance to experience something that’s radically different from life as a refugee, but it also gives other Olympians–and the untold billions around the world watching–the chance to learn what life entails when you’re fleeing a war-torn country. Inspirational tales abound at the Olympics are a big part of why we watch, and many who compete have overcome some sort of hardship to get there. But Team Refugee, who made their way to Rio without a country to support them, have a story that’s unique even within that context. It’s plenty of fun to chant “U-S-A!” for two and a half weeks every couple of years, but if that sort of patriotism ever starts to wear thin, cheering for a team without a nation behind them taps into the true spirit of sportsmanship.

About the author

Dan Solomon lives in Austin with his wife and his dog. He's written about music for MTV and Spin, sports for Sports Illustrated, and pop culture for Vulture and the AV Club.



More Stories