The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.
Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.
International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?
A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading