Shining a positive light on refugees in Rio

I’ll never forget the overwhelming sense of energy and euphoria that I experienced when entering an Olympic stadium for the first time. It was during the 2010 winter games, hosted in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Beyond the thrill of cheering for the athletes that bore my country’s flag, I watched with wide eyes, in awe of the unique event that brings together athletes and their fans from around the world for a few weeks every 2-4 years. The atmosphere was buzzing with dozens of languages being hurled in all directions, and where smiles and tears were the common denominator. Despite the brazen displays of national pride, I felt that the prevailing spirit was one of unity.Whether or not you consider yourself a sports fan, the Olympic games have long inspired millions across the globe as they witness athletes test and break through the limits of human ability and endurance. Many viewers take interest in more than just those athletes who make it to the podium. The accomplishment of each athlete in their journey to the world stage is immense, and many of their stories outshine their final results.Over 200 countries are represented at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer. Ten athletes, however, have made history by taking part in the first ever team of refugees. Originally, they hail from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but since they have been forced to flee their countries and are considered stateless, these talented individuals would otherwise be unable to compete. The Refugee Olympic Team has given them the opportunity to participate, and moreover, to represent millions of displaced persons. It has drawn international attention to the refugee crisis and shed a positive light on their community.The two Syrian athletes, a male and female swimmer, have captured the hearts of many.Rami Anis left Syria in 2011, traveling through Turkey and Greece before arriving in Belgium where he currently resides. This week, he earned a personal best in the 100m butterfly and a standing ovation after his performance in the 100m freestyle. Although Anis’ times did not enable him to advance, he says competing at the Olympics is a “dream come true.” He wants to give Syrians and others in his situation hope, and to “show the best possible image of refugees.” Yet his dream hasn’t been entirely fulfilled. Anis further hopes “that in Tokyo 2020 there will be no refugee team, as I hope for all the wars to end and so all athletes will be able to compete in the name of their country. The Syrians to compete for Syria.”[embed][/embed]Eighteen-year-old Yusra Mardini has a heart-breaking story with a happy ending. Last year, she fled Syria with her sister and boarded an overcrowded dinghy to cross the Mediterranean. When the boat broke down, rather than accepting their plight, the two girls jumped in the water and pushed it for more than three hours until they landed safely on shore. Mardini now lives in Germany where she has been able to pursue her passion for the sport that saved her life and 20 others. She was overjoyed to race in the 100m freestyle and win an early heat in the 100m butterfly event.[embed][/embed]These are the Olympic moments that manage to transcend political borders and speak to the humanity that binds us. In spite of the controversy and scandal that often surround these events, I remain grateful for the examples of sportsmanship and perseverance that rise from them. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the gold and untold victories of the Rio Olympics this year!