Refugee AthletesPreceding the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced that a team of 10 refugee athletes would be allowed to compete in the games and carry the Olympic flag. The team was called Team Refugee Olympic Athletes and was treated just like any other Olympic team.

By allowing the refugee athletes to be a part of the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the IOC is hoping to give hope to refugees everywhere.

“Having no national team to belong to, having no flag to march behind, having no national anthem to be played, these refugee athletes will be welcomed to the Olympic Games with the Olympic flag and with the Olympic Anthem,” said IOC President Thomas Bach in a news release. “They will have a home together with all the other 11,000 athletes from 206 National Olympic Committees in the Olympic Village.”

While these athletes now have a chance to be a part of a team in uncertain times, Visa, the world’s largest payments network, saw that there was an even bigger opportunity for comradery. Team Visa is a network of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are sponsored by Visa.

In July 2016, all 10 refugee Olympic athletes signed on to become a part of Team Visa. Through the partnership, the refugee athletes are supported in their athletic journey’s and in turn, help Visa to promote a culture of acceptance.

According to Chris Curtin, Visa’s Chief Marketing Innovation and Brand Officer, the perseverance the refugee Olympic athletes is inspiring not only Visa, but the world. The bravery that allowed the athletes to get to the Olympic games and march with the Olympic flag directly embodies Visa’s belief in acceptance for everyone, everywhere.

While the Rio Games proved a success for the refugee athletes and Team Visa overall, neither party shows sign of stopping there. On July 9, 2017, the IOC confirmed that a Refugee Olympic Team will compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Team Visa’s involvement with the athletes has not yet been confirmed, but a source says they are looking to extend relationships.

“We are committed to sustaining our message of acceptance worldwide and are exploring longer term partnership opportunities with the IOC on their Olympic Solidarity Initiatives, and with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on their refugee development programs,” a spokesperson told The Wrap. “We are also exploring contract renewals for select Team Visa athletes in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

Madeline Boeding
Photo: Flickr

Humanitarian Athletes
Athletes spend numerous hours during the week training and preparing for their next matches, games and adventures. Through their unmatched hard work, they are able to capture titles while simultaneously building a career and global fame.

Going above and beyond, many athletes use their popular status and successful careers to improve the world around them. These four humanitarian athletes utilize their fame and the small amount of free time they have to contribute to global charities.

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Professional Soccer Forward)
    Ronaldo is known as one of the most generous athletes in the world. He often donates his bonus checks and portions of his salary to various charities and countries in need of reconstruction and help. For example, he donates millions of dollars to foundations like UNICEF and “World Vision,” which aim to enhance the lives of children in impoverished countries through the enhancement of health and education. When he’s not sweating on the field, he also takes time to physically participate in fundraising campaigns.
  2. Serena Williams (Professional Tennis Player)
    When Williams isn’t grinding on the court winning grand slams, she’s looking to improve the status of the world’s poor. She was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2011 because of her commitment to helping the youth around the globe. In 2010, Williams announced the New Schools for Asia Campaign under UNICEF, which looks to provide children in the Asia-Pacific area with schooling. Around the world, there are 67 million people who are not enrolled in school. Of those 67 million people, 26 million live in the Asia-Pacific area. UNICEF’s executive director talked about Serena, explaining that she “isn’t just a tennis champion, she is a champion for children—and a passionate advocate for providing every child with a quality education.”
  3. David Beckham (Professional Soccer Midfielder)
    Beckham was also appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. His focus under UNICEF is the Unite Against AIDS campaign. After visiting Sierra Leone in 2007, he said, “In Sierra Leone, one in four children dies before reaching their fifth birthday – it’s shocking and tragic especially when the solutions are simple – things like vaccinations against measles or using a mosquito net to reduce the chance of getting malaria.” Beckham hopes to draw attention to the safety and health of children through his global presence.
  4. Jessica Watson (Sailor)
    Watson is known for circumnavigating the globe solo at the age of 16. Now at the age of 23, she continues to the explore the world as a representative for the World Food Program. This humanitarian athlete focuses her time and energy on Laos, saying, “At age 16 I achieved my dream. I want the school children in Laos to be able to achieve their dream. And stopping hunger is the first step in that process.”

Watson works with the School Meals program, making sure that kids in school are able to eat a nutritious meal every day. Global hunger affects 1 out of 7 people in the world. Jessica Watson, along with the World Food Program, aims to help 80 million people in 80 different countries combat lack of food.

These four humanitarian athletes have been able to use their global status to make a positive difference. By representing various foundations, they are not only able to raise awareness of global crises to fans around the world, but their use of fame also makes fighting global poverty a little easier.

Casey Marx

Photo: Flickr

Who says Congress won’t play ball? From the field to the capital, here are seven famous athletes who went on to become politicians:

1. Jon Runyan (R-NJ) This former offensive tackle played in the National Football League (NFL) for 14 years, first as a Tennessee Titan, and later as a Philadelphia Eagle. In 2000, Runyan and the Titans played the XXXIV Super Bowl, losing narrowly. Now retired from football, Runyan currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.

2. Bill Bradley (D-NJ) Rhodes scholar and former presidential candidate Bill Bradley represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate between 1979 and 1997. Before his political career, however, Bradley was a well-known basketball player, who won a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. Later, he went to play for the Knicks, leading them to victory in two championships and earning himself a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

3. Bob Mathias (R-CA) Bob Mathias was only 17 years old when he won his first gold medal in the 1948 Olympics decathlon. When the 1952 Olympics rolled around, Mathias won again. During these four years, he set three world records, including youngest man to win an Olympic track and field title. Fifteen years later, Mathias was elected to the House of Representative, where he served two terms. Mathias died in 2006 at the age of 75.

4. Steve Largent (R-OK) A wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, Largent set multiple receiving records during his 14 seasons in the NFL, including most receptions. In 1995, a year after being elected to the House of Representatives, Largent was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He retired from office in 2002.

5. Jim Bunning (R-KY) Perhaps one of the most famous athletes to enter politics, Bunning is best known for throwing a perfect game while playing for the Detroit Tigers in 1964. At the time, there had only been six other perfect games in Major League history. Bunning’s success won him a spot in the Major League Ball (MLB) Hall of Fame in 1996. Bunning also enjoyed a prolific career as a highly conservative politician, first in the House, from 1987 to 1999, and then in the Senate until 2011.

6. Jim Ryun (R-KS) Prior to joining the House of Representatives in 1996, Ryun ran the 1500 meters in three Olympic games, winning a silver medal in 1968, and setting world records in the mile, the 1500 meters and the 1800 meters. Ryun is the last American athlete to set a world record in the mile.

7. Jack Kemp (R-NY) Inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, Kemp was a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. During his seven years with the team, the Buffalo Bills won two American Football League championships and attended the playoffs four years running. In 1965, Kemp was elected AFL Most Valuable Player, and in 1984, the Buffalo Bills permanently retired his number. After his time with the Bills, Kemp served in the House of Representatives for 16 years, before becoming U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush. Kemp died of cancer in 2009.

– Jordanna Packtor

Sources: Business Insider, Sports Illustrated Kids, John Runyan, Bill Bradley, New York Times, Pro Football Hall of Fame, Huffington Post
Photo: Sports Illustrated Kids