THE 2016 SUMMER OLYMPICS IN RIO are shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. Facilities aren’t remotely close to ready. The country is undergoing its worst economic crisis in a century. The President is in the process of being impeached. Police violence has spiked. Tickets aren’t selling. Poor people have been booted from their homes. The Bay that many sailing and swimming events have to take place in is insanely polluted. And the country is undergoing a public health crisis thanks to the Zika outbreak, which could very possibly get much, much worse if visitors to the Olympics go back to their countries infected.
This isn’t the first time the Olympics have been marred by controversy, but it may well be the worst time. So it’s worth our while to take a moment to find the silver lining: the first-ever team made up of refugees.
One of the worst stories of the past year or two has been the refugees crisis: people in need fleeing their home countries, where they faced violence and oppression, only to arrive in new countries where they were treated with suspicion and hostility.
The IOC announced last Friday that there would be a team of ten athletes — six men and four women — who would compete in track and field, swimming, and judo events under no national flag.
Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, said in a statement, “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. 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. It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees released videos telling the stories of each of the athletes last week. They include swimmers who escaped Syria, Judo champs who fled the Congolese Civil War, South Sudanese runners, and an Ethiopian marathon runner.
The move comes as the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East has worsened. Refugees continue to die by the hundreds while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in tiny, unseaworthy boats, and many countries are becoming more right wing in an attempt to close borders and keep these people in need out of their countries.
So this summer, even if the rest of the Olympic Games are a dud, there will at least be ten athletes who we can all admire. I’ll be rooting for #TeamRefugee.