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Olympic refugee team of 29 athletes chosen for Tokyo Games

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The International Olympics Committee on Tuesday unveiled the refugee team of 29 athletes that will participate in the Tokyo Olympics next month.

Committee President Thomas Bach made the announcement during a virtual ceremony, saying he “can’t wait to see” them compete.

“When you, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the athletes from the National Olympic Committees from all over the globe, finally come together in Tokyo on July 23, it will send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience and hope to the world,” Bach said. “You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms.”

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach announces the IOC Refugee Team members for Tokyo 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland, on June 8, 2021.

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The team members, who will compete in 12 different sports, will play under the Olympic flag and will enter the stadium on July 23 in second position after Greece. 

The athletes include Kimia Alizadeh, who became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she took bronze in taekwando in 2016. Alizadeh, who originally competed for Iran in the Rio Olympics in 2016, was granted refugee status in Germany after fleeing her homeland. 

Iran’s Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin poses with her bronze medal on the podium after the womens taekwondo event in the -57kg category as part of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. 

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Six of the 10 athletes who competed on the inaugural 2016 refugee team, including swimmer Yusra Mardini and runner James Nyang Chiengjiek, will return to the team to compete in Tokyo. This year’s team hails from 11 countries: Syria, Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Eritrea, Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Iraq. 

The team was chosen from a pool of 56 athletes who fled their home countries and were given scholarships to train for the Olympics in their new countries. More than $2 million has been invested in the athletes’ preparation for Tokyo since 2016, according to the IOC

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who is also Vice Chairman of the Olympic Refuge Foundation, said in a statement that the team embodies the “hopes and aspirations” of more than 80 million people around the world. 

“They are an exceptional group of people who inspire the world… Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people, but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride,” Grandi said. 

“It shows what is possible when refugees are given the opportunity to make the most of their potential …They serve as a reminder that everyone deserves the chance to succeed in life,” Grandi added.

With less than 45 days left until the games are scheduled to begin, Japan is moving forward with the rescheduled Olympics in Tokyo despite concerns over the pandemic. The games will be held from July 23 to August 8.


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