For the first time, elite refugee athletes with no country to represent will be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games. Amid a continuing refugee crisis, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach made the announcement Monday at the United Nations General Assembly.
Bach called on all 193 member states of the United Nations to help single out talented refugee athletes who may be able to participate in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games. "This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis," he said, according to the Associated Press.
Prior to the 2016 games, qualified refugee athletes were not able to participate in the Olympics because they had no home country to represent, Bach said. But amid a growing crisis, with some 20 million refugees worldwide, the International Olympic Committee decided to welcome refugee athletes. They will compete under the Olympic flag and live in the Olympic Village alongside 11,000 athletes from 206 countries.
"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," Bach said according to the AP. He later added that the International Olympic Committee had started a $2 million fund aimed at bringing "hope through sport to refugees."
"We are assisting high-level refugee athletes to continue their sports careers," Bach said, according to the AP. "We help them to make their dream of sporting excellence come true, even when they have to flee from violence and hunger."
Bach stressed that all people are equal in Olympic sports and that the games aimed to promote nondiscrimination and peace. A resolution, supported by 180 of 193 United Nations states, also called for all fighting to stop during the Olympic Games that begin Aug. 5 and for the peace to continue through the Paralympic Games that end Sept. 18. “The Olympic Games are the time when the values of tolerance, solidarity and peace are brought to life,” Bach said according to the Guardian. “This is the time when the international community comes together for peaceful competition."
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled conflict-torn or repressive countries like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea for Europe for more than a year. More than 500,000 refugees have arrived in Greece via the Mediterranean this year alone, according to United Nation's refugee agency.