The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave approval Wednesday to a plan that would allow a team of up to 10 refugees compete in the Rio Olympics, reported Agence France-Presse. Forty-three prospective athletes have already been identified as possible members of the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes (ROA).
The team made up of athletes that have fled their home countries would compete under the Olympic flag at the Rio de Janeiro games. IOC president Thomas Bach addressed the issue after a meeting of group's executive committee Wednesday, according to the BBC.
"By welcoming ROA to the Olympic Games in Rio, we want to send a message of hope to all the refugees of the world," he said. "This team will be treated like all the other teams."
Athletes are reportedly to be selected based on their sporting ability, but also based on personal circumstances and if they are verified by the United Nations as a refugee. The athletes will also receive funds to aid their training. According to Agence France-Presse, the final number of team members has yet to be decided, Bach said.
"The final number of athletes that would make up this team depends of qualification criteria," he said. "I can just give you my feeling, but I believe that this team could feature between five and 10 athletes."
Three athletes who fled their home countries – a Syrian swimmer based in Germany, an Iranian taekwondo athlete training in Belgium, and a judo athlete from the Democratic Republic of Congo living in Brazil – have already been identified as skilled enough to competed at the 2016 games in Rio.
The team competing under the Olympic flag comes at a time when more than 4.5 million people have fled Syria amid a deadly five-year civil war, sparking a continued refugee crisis. More than 1 million Syrians reportedly fled to Europe last year alone.
"We have all been touched by the magnitude of this refugee crisis," Bach said. The plan to allow refugees to compete first took root in October of last year.