The International Olympic Committee selected the Refugee Olympic Team — which was first established in 2016 — for the Tokyo Games

By Vanessa Etienne
June 08, 2021 01:31 PM

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the names of the nearly 30 athletes who will be competing at the Olympic Games in Tokyo as part of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team (EOR).

On Tuesday, 29 athletes were selected to compete across 12 sports and from 13 host National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in the upcoming Games. They will participate in swimming, athletics, badminton, boxing, canoeing, cycling, judo, karate, shooting, taekwondo, weightlifting, and wrestling, the IOC said.

The IOC held a virtual ceremony for the Olympic athletes during which IOC President Thomas Bach made the official announcement, saying, "Congratulations to all of you. I speak on behalf of the entire Olympic movement when I say that we cannot wait to meet you in person and to see you compete in Tokyo." 

"When you, the IOC Refugee Olympic Team and the athletes from the National Olympic Committees from all over the globe, finally come together in Tokyo on July 23, it will send a powerful message of solidarity, resilience, and hope to the world. You are an integral part of our Olympic community, and we welcome you with open arms," he continued.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Tokyo Summer Olympics logo

Each member was selected from a pool of 55 people who fled their home countries and received scholarships to train for the Olympics in a new country. 

Athletes were chosen based on their performance in their respective sports and their refugee status, as confirmed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Personal background and "balanced representativity" in terms of sport, gender and regions, were also considered by the IOC. In Tokyo, the team will compete under the Olympic flag and the French acronym EOR, which stands for Equipe Olympique des Réfugiés. 

"They are an exceptional group of people who inspire the world. UNHCR is incredibly proud to support them as they compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games," said UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi during the ceremony. "Surviving war, persecution and the anxiety of exile already makes them extraordinary people, but the fact that they now also excel as athletes on the world stage fills me with immense pride. It shows what is possible when refugees are given the opportunity to make the most of their potential."

Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Man in mask standing near Olympic rings in Tokyo
| Credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty

The first-ever refugee Olympic team was established in 2016 for the Rio Olympics, consisting of 10 athletes from South Sudan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia who competed in swimming, track and field, and judo.

Following the success of the team in Rio, the IOC decided two years later that there would also be an IOC Refugee Olympic Team in Tokyo.

Among this year's selected group is Kimia Alizadeh, who became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal when she took home bronze in taekwondo in 2016. According to the Associated Press, she left Iran after accusing Iranian officials of sexism and criticizing the mandatory hijab requirement. She is now living in Germany. Every member of the Tokyo Refugee Olympic Team is listed here.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are scheduled to kick off on July 23.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.