Olympic Refuge FoundationAn increasing number of people around the world face the daunting task of fleeing conflict, violence and poverty, leaving behind their livelihoods to start anew in unfamiliar territories. The circumstances of refugees make them vulnerable to poverty. Projects that cater to the well-being of refugees are of utmost importance given the current global refugee crisis. The Olympic Refuge Foundation employs sports to aid young refugees in finding a sense of belonging, building confidence, establishing purpose and even developing careers that can pave the way to a prosperous future.

4 Facts About Refugees

  1. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the number of people forced to flee their homes has reached an all-time high, with currently 35.3 million refugees worldwide.
  2. According to UNICEF, around half of the world’s refugees are children. This is particularly worrying as refugee children are three times more likely than refugee adults to be poor.
  3. Developing countries host 85% of refugees, exposing them to disproportionate rates of poverty.
  4. Turkey now hosts the highest number of refugees with 3.7 million, followed by Colombia with 1.7 million.

World Refugee Day, observed annually on 20 June, aims to highlight the strength and courage of people who have been compelled to leave their home countries.

The Olympic Refuge Foundation

Since the 1990s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been developing sports programs in the camps and settlements where refugees often find themselves. People from various countries, speaking different languages, have united through sports, finding joy in simple games like basketball.

Sports projects have grown beyond the camp boundaries since then. In March 2016, the IOC announced the formation of the Olympic Refugee Team. During the Summer Olympics in Rio, 10 athletes were chosen to be part of the first-ever IOC Refugee Olympic Team.

During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, 29 refugee athletes competed across 12 different sports. The increased number of top-level athletes also reflects the global expansion of sports programs working to assist refugees. In December 2017, the IOC established the Olympic Refuge Foundation with the aim of providing consistent support not only to high-level refugee athletes but to refugees worldwide. The foundation currently supports 12 programs in eight countries: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Rwanda, Turkey and Uganda, with plans to extend the project to France.

The sports projects in refugee camps provide safe and inclusive spaces for young people escaping violence, abuse, negligence and exploitation. Young people of different nationalities are able to communicate with each other through the common language of sport, making valuable friendships and building trust and confidence in themselves. The day-to-day activities contribute to the social cohesion and development of people who have been scarred by their past. Fighting the feeling of hopelessness and desolation is so common in camps and is key to their future growth and recovery.

Terrains D’avenir

The IOC and Olympic Refuge Foundation are also eager to leverage the upcoming Olympics in Paris as a means to promote sports in local communities in France. With the support of the French Ministry of Sports and several other partners, a program known as Terrains d’Avenir was launched. It aims to provide access to sports for 7,000 young people affected by displacement by 2025. The program, initiated in June 2023, seeks to support refugees in their recovery from traumatic experiences and to integrate them into French society through sports.

The project is open to all displaced young people, regardless of their administrative status or ability to speak French and will offer organized activities across a variety of sports.

Overall, starting over in a new country can be quite challenging. It often involves learning a new language, adapting to new customs, finding a new job and integrating into the local community. However, with the support of organizations like the Olympic Refuge Foundation, young displaced individuals can aspire to a brighter future through sports.

– Almaz Nerurkar
Photo: Flickr