Refugee runners: Olympics fields its first team without a country

Adapted from an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2016.

Few events cultivate as deep and enthusiastic a sense of nationalism as the Olympic Games, a weeks-long parade of national colors and elite sporting prowess. But for this year’s Summer Games, for the first time in history, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is fielding a small team of refugees—athletes representing not a country, but all those without one.

“We want to send a message of hope to all the refugees of the world,” said IOC president Thomas Bach in March when he announced the formation of the team. 

For the IOC’s governing body, the decision to create the team is heavily symbolic, a nod to the suffering of tens of millions displaced by wars from Damascus to Kinshasa. But for the refugee athletes, it isn’t just a symbol of a crisis. It’s their way out of it.

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