Refugee team to compete at Tokyo 2020

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The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has announced that a team of six refugees will be sent to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Opportunities for refugees to compete at high-level sporting events are limited. According to Amnesty International, there are over 26 million refugees in the world today, yet the proportion of these people who are likely to ever compete in an Olympic games is minute. The prospect of a physically impaired refugee competing at a Paralympic games is even smaller.    

It is for this reason that the IPC is making a concerted effort to develop the Refugee Paralympic Team (RPT), in a bid to establish a symbol of hope to refugees around the world and create awareness of the struggles faced by refugee athletes. 

The IPC is guaranteed to provide the RPT with all the funding it requires for Tokyo, including coaching, training facilities and sponsorship. On the latter of these promises, commercial sponsors have already been announced, with Airbnb pledging to be a leading partner of the team and Sportswear company Asics signing on as the team’s sportswear provider. 

Electrics company Panasonic has also joined the RPT as an official partner, having recently published a photo book called “Ayase Haruka meets Beautiful Athletes” as part of their Beautiful Japan towards 2020 campaign. The company have promised to donate part of the sales revenue of this book to support the RPT’s training programme for Tokyo. 

At Rio 2016, only two people – a refugee and an asylee – represented the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team. In Tokyo next year, there will be six members of the RPT. It is also likely that the Olympic team will grow from its ten-person line-up in Rio, as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has revealed plans to increase the number of Olympic refugee athletes for Tokyo. 

Each member of the RPT will be chosen not only by the IPC, but also by former Paralympian Ileana Rodriguez. Rodriguez was herself once a refugee before competing in the London 2012 Paralympics as a swimmer for the United States. She has now been appointed as the RPT’s chef de mission for Tokyo. 

Tokyo’s Paralympics is set to be held between 24th August and 5th September 2021, at a rearranged schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Image Credit: UNHCR.ORG