Team of Refugees to Participate in Rio Olympics


Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, center, at a refugee camp in Athens on Thursday. Bach said between five to 10 refugee athletes would participate under the Olympic flag.

Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A small team of international refugee athletes will participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this year, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, confirmed on Thursday.

While touring a refugee camp in Athens, Bach said: “We want to draw the attention of the world to the problems of the refugees,” Reuters reported. “It would not be a big number, between five to 10,” he said of the team.

The team would compete under the Olympic flag, Bach said, echoing remarks he made in October at the United Nations.

In December, the I.O.C. director, Pere Miro, cited three possible refugee competitors, a female swimmer from Syria now in Germany, a male judo player from Congo now in Brazil and a female Iranian taekwondo fighter in Belgium.

Athletes have marched behind the Olympic flag on a number of occasions, usually because of geopolitical conflict. In 1992, athletes from Yugoslavia competed under the Olympic banner because of sanctions against the country over the war in the Balkans. Athletes from the new nations of East Timor in 2000 and South Sudan in 2012 competed because their formal Olympic committees had not yet been formed.

But a team of refugees at the Rio Games would be a first.

Bach also said that the Olympic torch would pass through a refugee camp in Athens and that a refugee would carry it. The torch is traditionally lighted in Olympia, Greece, site of the ancient Games. This year that is scheduled for April 21, with the torch arriving in Brazil for the relay May 3.

Greece has been a key landing spot for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere over the past year. Thousands have died in boat sinkings, including at least 24 on Thursday. The numbers have overwhelmed the authorities of a country with financial issues of its own, and many refugees are being held in camps with poor conditions.

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