Beijing Olympic athletes get the chance to give hope to refugees

With the launch of the "Giving is Winning" campaign in the Olympic Village in Beijing, 10,000 athletes are being asked to donate surplus sports clothing to make life a little brighter for refugees in Asia.

UNHCR Representative in China, Veerapong Vongvarotai, makes a symbolic donation of sports clothing to the "Giving is Winning" campaign in the Beijing Olympic Village.   © UNHCR Beijing

BEIJING, CHINA, Aug. 4 (UNHCR) - The opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games is still days away, but in the Olympic Village, athletes already have the chance to prove themselves winners for refugees.

The UN refugee agency and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) launched the "Giving is Winning" Campaign in the Olympic Village last Friday (Aug. 1) to encourage athletes and national Olympic Committees to give surplus sportswear to refugees in Asia.

"Refugee youth have often suffered terribly and witnessed war first hand," UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in Geneva. "Some refugees are born in camps; others grow up in camps, which can mean a lifetime with little or no access to sport or recreation. The gift of sportswear from Olympic athletes around the globe inspires refugees and connects them to the world of sports. Beyond happiness it brings them hope."

In the past year, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, the initial goal of collecting 50,000 items of sports clothing has nearly been met. The items collected so far have been distributed to refugees in Rwanda, Tanzania, Chad, Moldova, Georgia and Panama

"I am thrilled by this success and the strong support of the Olympic Family so far," IOC President Jacques Rogge said at last Friday's ceremony. "Of course we want to go much higher now - the bigger impact we can make with this campaign, the better. I am convinced that with our common efforts we can collect many more items."

Former Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergey Bubka, now chairman of the IOC Athletes Commission said it should be easy to meet the goal, with more than 10,000 athletes participating in the Games.

"I am confident that many of my colleagues will recognize the value of this project and be eager to contribute," Bubka said. "It really is so easy to participate. Sport has given a lot to all of us and it is great to be able to give back a bit by bringing joy to refugees."

Far too many young refugees spend years languishing in bleak camps around the world, UNHCR's Regional Representative for China and Mongolia, Veerapong Vongvarotai said at the launch ceremony.

"For them the gift of sportswear associated with famous athletes from across the Olympic spectrum can be an enormous morale-booster and a sign that the world does care," he said. "A sport uniform inspires refugees and connects them to the world of sport."

The "Giving is Winning" initiative was first established at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when more than 30,000 items were collected to support sports among young refugees in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Kosovo and Tanzania.