By Alexis Chauvette
After a summer wracked with terror, the Syrian Refugee crisis, and the upcoming American Presidential Election, all eyes fell eagerly on the impending Olympic games. Per usual, officials predicted the American team, with Michael Phelps and the Final Five, to dominate. What many officials did not expect was the impact of having a Refugee team compete.
After months of a negative portrayal of refugees in the media, the Refugee team had the remarkable chance to shine a unique and positive perspective on the refugee crisis facing the world. Suddenly, the news contained stories of heroism and hope.
After being announced as a swimmer on the Olympic Refugee Team, Yusra Mardini quickly found herself in the spotlight. As Mardini and her family fled Syria, she and her sister saved 18 people when the boat they were escaping in began to capsize. Quickly, Mardini and her sister dove into the ocean in order to push the boat to safety. Had the pair not shown such bravery, all 18 people on the boat would not be alive today. Equally impressive is how well Mardini performed at the Olympics. According to SB Nation, at 19 years old “she won the first heat of the women’s 100-meter butterfly.”
Another swimmer on the Olympic Refugee Team, Rami Anis, was forced to stop swimming as his home country, Syria, became consumed with the chaos of war. Had the Olympic committee not created a team for refugees, Anis would not have the opportunity to achieve his goal of going to the Olympics.
While Anis expressed his gratitude to the committee for creating an Olympic Refugee Team, he also remarked, “I hope that at Tokyo 2020 there will be no refugee team, as I hope for all wars to end and so all athletes will be able to compete in the name of their country.” This profound statement conveys the emotions of many on the Olympic Refugee Team. They are filled with excitement to compete on the world’s biggest sports stage, yet the athletes are disappointed they are unable to represent their home country.
With a total number of nine athletes, all hailing from different countries including South Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, and Congo, the Olympic Refugee Team helped to create a more positive image of the refugee crisis by exploring the stories of each athlete. The different narratives of each member of the team reminded the world that each refugee experience is different and that all nine athletes wished they could have represented their country, not because they are ungrateful, but because they want to proudly compete for their homeland. As Herb Brooks states in the movie Miracle, “the name on the front [of your jersey] is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back.”