Five athletes originally from South Sudan, are currently competing in the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMG) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, under the flag of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The five athletes – Paulo Amotun Lokoro (entered in 1500m), Wiyual Puok Deng (400m), Gai Yang Tap (800m), Ukuk Uthoo Bul (3000m), and Yiech Pur Biel (800m) – were selected for Ashgabat 2017 after trials organised by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya.
Lokoro and Biel competed at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, while the other three are making their maiden appearance at the international event.
Their participation is in solidarity with the Olympic charter and a way to unite the world under the banner of sports.
The Chairman of the 5th AIMAG Executive Committee, Dayanch Gulgeldiyev, said it was decided to have a refugee team after seeing their inclusion at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“We saw what a positive affect the Refugee Olympic Team had at Rio 2016. We thought it would be wonderful to include a delegation of athletes at Ashgabat 2017 because of the reception they received,” he stated.
“We wanted to follow the lead of the International Olympic Committee in highlighting the plight of refugees in the world.”
The five refugees are under the leadership of veteran Kenyan Olympian, who doubles as the United Nations Ambassador for Sport and Peace, Tegla Loroupe Madam Loroupe said the athletes are thrilled to get a chance to compete on an international stage.
“There are few opportunities to compete, especially for refugees, so this is an exciting moment for them.
“We would bring some new athletes who did not compete before, so now they have the chance they have dreamed of. It’s special for them, to be able to show their talent and physical abilities on a bigger stage.
It means a lot. The refugee team is a team for humanity, and is one all nations can cheer for.”
Madam Loroupe held the marathon world record between 1998 and 2001.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the UNHCR have been working together for 22 years to bring sport to refugee camps around the world.