It was a pleasant change while they lasted, these Olympic games. It was nice to have my Facebook news feed clogged with the heroics of the athletes, their determination, and their drive to be unsurpassable, instead of watching the latest embarrassing antiques of politicians or the tragedy of another suicide bombing.
Moreover, these were the first Olympic games to contain a refugee team. Perhaps due to the media coverage of the European migrant crisis. It’s one of those things you would not have easily imagined—a team consisting of underprivileged yet equally talented athletes competing on a global platform. But now that it’s come to pass, for the life of you, you can’t imagine how the Olympic games went on this long without such a provision put in place years ago.
These athletes didn’t have a home country, a team, a flag, or a national anthem. They came from deplorable conditions; fleeing from unspeakable atrocities that, even now, are ravaging their homeland.
It is humbling to see Yusra Mardini, an 18-year-old refugee, whose practice for the Olympic swimming pool started in Syria and culminated in the frigid waters of the Aegean Sea, where the boat that she and 18 other refugees were cramped in broke down and started taking water. She had to muster all her courage and not only swim herself to safety but also push the overcrowded boat to the coast. “I thought it would be a real shame if I drowned in the sea, because I’m a swimmer,” she was later reported as saying. A shame indeed.
18 lives saved; seemingly one for each year that she has been in this world.
It is inspiring to see Paulo Amotun Lokoro, a South Sudanese refugee and a track and field athlete who raced the brown, dust-packed roads of Sudan and Kenya to prepare himself for his 1500m event. His shredded Red Nikes—with gaping holes large enough for his trainers to look like sandals—resting against the mud walls of his hut. The oil lamp illuminating his half inch thick mattress lying inconspicuously on one of the corners, naked except for a wafer thin sheet. No other furniture to speak of.
When the relatives of the athletes from Kenya and Sudan were asked what they wanted out of the games and where do they wanted to go, they replied that they just want to shift to some place with a school nearby. And to think, we tried our damned best not to show up to school.
It’s hard to say who benefitted most: the refugees, by getting this opportunity to compete on the world stage as well as shine a light on what’s happening in their country; the international Olympic committee, by the amount of goodwill and publicity this move generated; or us, by getting this opportunity to be awed and inspired, and to once again learn of the unnecessary tragedies in the world we live in.
“May your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity” - Pope Francis