After visiting refugees in Athens, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, Thomas Bach, has confirmed that a small team of refugees will participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio.
“We want to draw the attention of the world to the problems of the refugees,” said President Bach.
According to Reuters, he expects between five and 10 refugees to qualify for the Olympics.
“These athletes we are talking about have no national committee, they have no home, and they have no flag to March behind,” Bach said.
These top athletes, with no home country to represent, will march behind the Olympic committee’s flag and will be hosted at the Olympic village this summer.
Bach privately met with a family from Yemen who spent seven months making the journey from their home to the refugee camp. He later toured the camp and played soccer with the some of the refugees.
Among those in the camp were two top-level athletes – one in karate and the other in shooting. Both were offered assistance with training and integration into the Greek sports community.
Greece has become a major gateway to Europe since the Syrian crisis created an influx of refugees across the continent, with close to a million arrivals last year alone. The visit was in part to allow the IOC to get a first-hand look at how their $2 million (USD) emergency funds have been used to aid humanitarian efforts in the country.
“Here you saw refugees from Syria, from Mali, from Sierra Leone, from Iran, from Iraq, all playing together with us, and really showing a small Olympic community here in this camp,” said Bach.
The flame for the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio will also pass through the refugee camp in Athens and one of the refugee athletes will be a torch bearer, carrying it through part of its first leg of the 100-day relay to Brazil.
In the past, athletes from Yuogoslavia, East Timor, and South Sudan have marched behind the Olympic flag in times of conflict.