International Olympic Committee Announces First-Ever Refugee Team (Video)

The International Olympic Committee made history Friday, revealing the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will welcome the world’s first-ever refugee team, with 10 athletes invited to participate under the Olympic flag.

"These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem," IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release. "We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world. The Olympic anthem will be played in their honor and the Olympic flag will lead them into the stadium.”

Popole Misenga and Yolande Mabika, two Congolese judokas who will bear the Olympic flag this summer, fled their rural home towns to Kinshasa, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during the height of the five-year armed conflict. Misenga’s mother was murdered during the melee; Mabika is unaware if any of her family survived.

When they finally made it to Rio, the pair said their coach stole their money and documents and disappeared. "We didn't eat for at least two days, we were very hungry," Mabika told CNN. "At one point I just started looking for other Africans, I couldn't take it anymore.” They decided to stay in Brazil and seek asylum.

In 2015, they met Flavio Canto, a Brazilian judo champ. The fighter invited Misenga and Marika to train with his organization NGO Instituto Reacao. CNN reports the organization “uses sport to help disenfranchised youth affected by crime and poverty.”

"It's tough to find refugees living in this vulnerable situation who have the physical condition to compete at an Olympic level," Canto said. "They are warriors though and showed great potential.” 

Four-time Olympic coach Geraldo Bernardes, who trains with the Congolese pair, noted it was difficult to curb Misenga and Marika’s penchant for anger. "The minute they would hit the tatami, they would go on the attack," Bernardes said. "Judo has a very strong philosophy of respect and appreciation towards the contender which we had to instill in them.”

Misenga said she plans to fight at the Olympics in honor of the millions of people without a home. "This shows that the Olympic committee sees us, refugees, as human beings," Misenga said. "My fight in the Olympics will be for all refugees, to give them faith in their dreams.”

Watch the video of Popole Misenga below, via AFP News Agency.


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