Tokyo Paralympic Games team of six announced
The International Paralympic Committee has unveiled the Paralympic Refugee Team for the upcoming Tokyo Games. Six athletes with a disability, including the first woman, will compete in track and field, swimming, canoeing and taekwondo. The announcement comes three weeks after the presentation of the Refugee Olympic Team.
With less than two months to go before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced on Wednesday June 30 the six athletes who will compete under the Paralympic flag in late August and early September in Japan.
Hailing from Afghanistan, Burundi, Iran and Syria, the five men and one woman represent four sports – athletics, swimming, canoeing, taekwondo – and currently live and train in Germany, Greece, Rwanda and the United States. United States.
Canoeist Anas Al Khalifa, who now lives in Germany after fleeing the war in Syria, says doing the refugee squad is something he never could have imagined. “There was so much destruction around me and war, going through refugee camps and having to jump from border to border,” he said.
Like the 29 members of the refugee Olympic team, revealed in early June, the Paralympic team represents the more than 82 million displaced people in the world, of which 12 million live with a disability.
“The last year has been particularly difficult for the refugee athletes, but they are no strangers to the hardship of their lives,” said team chef de mission Ileana Rodriguez, herself a refugee who represented the United States at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in swimming. “Showing the best of the human spirit, they will form a team like no other at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.” The group will be supported and managed in Tokyo by six coaches and four IOC and UNHCR officials.
The Paralympic Refugee Team (RPT) is the second refugee team created by the IPC. At the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, a two-person “independent team of Paralympic athletes” competed in swimming and men’s discus, without winning any medals. The two athletes, the Syrian Ibrahim Al Hussein and the Iranian Shahrad Nasajpour, are also part of the RPT.
“I swim for everyone”
Ibrahim Al Hussein has come a long way strewn with obstacles and sacrifices on his way to becoming a two-time Paralympian.
Hussein, now 33, started swimming at the age of five in the Euphrates River, which passes through his hometown of Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. He dreamed of becoming an Olympic swimmer.
In 2012, Hussein ran outside to help a friend shot by a sniper, before being injured in a bomb blast himself. His right leg was amputated from the middle of the calf. In 2014 he made the dangerous trip to Greece on an inflatable dinghy with 80 people. He was in a wheelchair at the time. Unlike many other refugees who traveled north to richer European countries, he remained in Greece.
After living on the streets of Athens for fifteen days, Al-Hussein was directed by a fellow Syrian to Angelos Chronopoulos, a Greek doctor who gave him a prosthesis. Acquiring refugee status in 2015, he was able to find work and start picking up the pieces.
“I don’t swim for myself,” he told the news agency Reuters may’s beginning. “There are around 80 million refugees in the world. I swim for everyone.”
First female Paralympic refugee athlete
Athens is also the current home of Alia Issa, whose father left Syria for Greece in 1996 in search of a better life for his family. After working alone as a tailor for four years, the father had enough money to raise his wife and their four children at the time. Issa was born in Greece soon after in 2001.
When Issa was four years old, she contracted smallpox and was hospitalized. A dangerously high fever caused damage to her brain and left her in a wheelchair with high support needs and difficulty speaking.
“I was intimidated by some of the kids,” she told IPC in May. “But that didn’t stop me from wanting to go to school. I liked school a lot.”
In 2017, she started attending a school for students with disabilities. “I didn’t feel different anymore. At my elementary school, I was the only one with a disability,” she said. Another game changer was his exposure to physical education classes.
“Being introduced to the sport… was very important to me. I felt stronger and more confident with my body and my mobility.”
After trying boccia and other sports, one of his teachers noticed his passion and strength. As a result, he introduced her to the club throw two years ago, which immediately fascinated her.
According to the IPC, the club throwing is a “discipline for athletes who do not have a strong enough grip to hold a javelin, shot put or chat. They hold a club that looks like a bowling pin. wooden. Athletes sit in a wheelchair or platform and aim to throw the club as far as they can. Some throw forward, backward or even sideways depending on their handicap .
As the first female Paralympic refugee athlete, Alia says she carries a special message for women with disabilities in Tokyo. “Do not stay inside your houses. Be active. It will give you your independence and a way to be included in society.”
Paralympic Refugee Team
In October 2020, the IPC announced that it would take up to six refugees from around the world to form the Paralympic Refugee Team for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, which are scheduled to start on August 24.
According to Philip Dorward, IPC communications manager, the Tokyo team is the first group where the IPC has supported refugee athletes “on a journey through the cycle of a match”, so four years in normal times, “and created a dedicated support team around them.”
Eligibility for the RPT did not only require “confirmed refugee status in accordance with international, national and regional law,” Dorward said. InfoMigrants. RPT hopefuls were also expected to rank for international sports federation events and meet “minimum performance standards”.
According to Dorward, the six candidates, who all made the cut, received financial support for equipment, training, competitions, training as well as additional needs, such as physiotherapy.
The budget for all competition-related costs was mainly provided by business partners such as Panasonic and Airbnb. The latter sponsor has also enabled several of the athletes to earn a small fee by hosting online experiences where the athletes “share their stories with the world,” Dorward said.
In addition, IPC also works closely with UNHCR to “send a strong message to all refugees and others forced to leave their homes”. Among other things, RPT athlete Abbas Karimi was recently named UNHCR’s “High Level Supporter”.
“While all refugees face significant challenges, people with disabilities are frequently at increased risk and face additional barriers to accessing assistance, services and opportunities,” IPC said in a press release about the announcement.
While support for athletes continues until the end of the Games, meaning that all costs for them and a coach each are covered, plans for after September 5 are currently “under review,” he said. said Dorward of the CPI. InfoMigrants.
Leave it all behind
What the six refugee athletes have in common are the sacrifices they had to make to get to where they are today, especially when it comes to leaving friends and families behind.
Swimmer Abbas Karimi was in the United States when his father died, canoeist Anas Al Khalifa has not seen his parents for ten years, swimmer Ibrahim Al Hussein says he does not want to return to Syria. And Iranian discus thrower Shahrad Nasajpour, who was born with cerebral palsy that left him with mobility limitations, left Iran in early 2016 to seek asylum in the United States.
“These athletes are examples of how change begins with sport – they’ve suffered life-changing injuries, fled for their safety and set out on dangerous journeys,” said Andrew Parsons, IPC President. “But despite the many obstacles put in their way, they have grown into elite athletes ready to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.”
The sixth member of the Tokyo 2020 Refugee Paralympic Team is Parfait Hakizimana. The only athlete living in a refugee camp, Hakizimana fled violence and unrest in his home country in central Africa, Burundi, in October 2015.
Born in 1988, his life was changed forever in 1996 when his mother was killed in front of him in an attack on the IDP camp where they were living at the time. Hakizimana himself suffered a serious gunshot wound which left his left arm permanently weakened.
But he trained in taekwondo in the camp. Returning to taekwondo at the age of 16, “saved me and cheered me up,” he said; but four years later, his father died in a motorcycle accident.
Yet he won. Two years later, in 2010, he obtained his black belt and opened a Taekwondo club in Burundi. Then another conflict uprooted him again: growing violence in his country made him flee to Rwanda in 2015.
A year later, he used his experience in Burundi to start a taekwondo club in his new home, Mahama refugee camp, near the border with Tanzania. According to the IPC, Hakizimana is now training around 150 people in the camp, including children as young as six.
“Refugees don’t have much. But sport helps them forget their problems,” he told IPC. “Everyone respects Olympians and Paralympians, so I like to show others who don’t know my abilities.”