Rogge praises young refugees, hails sport
Honorary IOC President say refugees have right to be treated as normal citizens
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Honorary IOC President Jacques Rogge, one of the main architects of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team, has spoken passionately about the importance of sports in the lives of young refugees and displaced people.
“These are young people, for the most part, they have a lot of assets to gain in life, and they have the right be considered as normal citizens. Giving them now the chance to compete in the Games is something fantastic,” he told UNHCR in an interview.
Rogge was speaking shortly after the ceremony on Wednesday evening when the Olympic flag was raised in the Olympic Village in honour of the 10-member team and its entourage, which includes coaches and medical staff, 24 hours after they were formally introduced to a full meeting of IOC members.
“Sports cannot do everything in the world. But sports can definitely create an atmosphere of peace, and mutual respect," he added. "So people coming from different ethnic groups, different regions, languages and cultures live peacefully and friendly together."
The former IOC President and the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy for Youth, Refugees and Sport has been involved with UNHCR in the promotion of sports for refugees and displaced people for over 20 years and in 46 countries, at the last count. He said he hoped the Olympic spotlight would help spread sport to more vulnerable groups.
“With UNHCR," Rogge said, "I will continue visiting camps and making assessments of the possibilities in terms of sports and together with UNHCR, to make sure we make the necessary investments on sports… There is a very strong relationship between IOC and UNHCR.
He added: “These are days they won't forget, for many reasons. It's a new world, a safe world, and definitely, they are the stars. On the Opening Ceremony, they are the ones everybody will be looking for.
“Whenever we come together with UNHCR, there is always a football match, or a basketball match. And you can see they have a passion for sports. Sport is their dream. And our duty is to introduce sports in refugee camps, build infrastructure, education and training.”
During the welcoming ceremony, organized by the IOC for all delegations, the refugee team gained the most applause in a harbinger of what many people believe will happen at the Opening Ceremony on Friday evening.
A musical presentation was held, presenting key Brazilian tones and rhythms since the beginning of last century. The music appeared to captivate the refugees and, at the end of the ceremony, all protocols were broken, as the athletes joined the dancers.