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Refugee athlete takes part in Tokyo Marathon 2020

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Refugee athlete takes part in Tokyo Marathon 2020

14 February 2020
Luxembourg. Ethiopian marathon runner Yonas Kinde trains for Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Ethiopian marathon runner Yonas Kinde trains for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Luxembourg, May 2016.

A refugee athlete has been selected as an elite runner for the Tokyo Marathon for the first time in the event’s history. Yonas Kinde, who currently lives in Luxembourg, will take part in the marathon on 1 March 2020.

Yonas participated at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 as a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team created by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He continues his training as an IOC Refugee Athlete Scholarship Holder and will compete as part of his efforts to secure selection in the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020.

He comes from Ethiopia, the country of the famous “barefoot runner” Abebe Bikila. Abebe is known for winning gold medals in the marathon at two consecutive Olympic Games, including the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. For Yonas, it has been a dream to run in Tokyo, as he deeply admires Abebe – an Ethiopian hero.

“Growing up, Abebe was an inspiration to me and I am delighted to be able to run in Tokyo, where he achieved so much,” Yonas says. “Through my participation, I hope to send the message that, if supported, refugees can unlock great potential.”

Those who participate at the elite category are runners who meet specific requirements set by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations (JAAF).

Yonas received the elite runner status following an initiative of Japan for UNHCR, the national fundraising partner of the UN Refugee Agency in the country.

It will be Yonas’s first visit to Japan. During his stay, he will train at the Tokorozawa campus of Waseda University.

The refugees’ participation at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 gave courage and hope to millions of people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. It also testified to the enormous strength of refugee athletes, who strive to do their best despite facing adversity.

The IOC Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020 will be announced in June.

Tokyo Marathon overview

  • Tournament name: Tokyo Marathon 2020
  • Event date and time: 1 March 2020 (Sunday), 9am

Athletic events:

1) Marathon (male, female, wheelchair male and female)

2) 10k (junior & youth, persons with disability, with transplant surgery, wheelchair male and female)

  • Organizer: Tokyo Marathon Foundation

Profile of Yonas Kinde

Yonas Kinde is a marathon runner and Ethiopian refugee who arrived in Luxembourg five years before he was selected for the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016. He threw himself into life in Luxembourg, taking French classes regularly, all the while pushing himself to become a better runner. Yonas began running in Ethiopia as a teenager, and after fleeing to Luxembourg he competed and won several titles in Luxembourg, France and Germany. He currently works as a physiotherapist and his personal marathon record is 2:17’12.

About the IOC

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a not-for-profit independent international organization, which is committed to building a better world through sport. It redistributes more than 90 per cent of its income to the wider sporting movement, which means that every day the equivalent of US$3.4 million goes to help athletes and sports organizations at all levels around the world.

In 2018, the IOC Session decided to create the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Tokyo 2020. This decision builds on the legacy of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team Rio 2016 and is the continuation of the IOC’s commitment to play its part in addressing the global refugee crisis and to convey the message of solidarity and hope to millions of refugee athletes around the world.


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is one of UN agencies established in 1950. UNHCR has a presence in 134 countries and works to provide protection and assistance to those who have been displaced due to conflict and persecution, including internally displaced people (IDPs), as well as stateless persons. The organization’s headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. UNHCR received the Nobel Prize in 1954 and 1981.

About Japan for UNHCR

Established in 2000, Japan for UNHCR is an official fundraising partner for UNHCR. Working closely with UNHCR Representation in Japan, the organization engages in fundraising and public relations activities in Japan. The organization is a certified NGO that issues receipts for tax reduction.


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