Refugee athletes from Kenya compete at world under-20s athletics championship in Finland
Refugee runners, originally from South Sudan, travelled to Tampere, Finland, to compete against young elite athletes from nearly 100 nations.
© UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Two refugee athletes from South Sudan are participating in the World Under-20s Athletics Championships in Tampere, Finland which kicked off on July 10th. The athletes travelled to Finland to participate in the competition, organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the world athletics body, and are competing under the IAAF flag. They have been trained and supported by the Tegla Loroupe Foundation, which supports refugee athletes in Kenya, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
One of the refugee competitors Lydia Mamun, fled South Sudan for Kenya as a child and has been living as a refugee in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya ever since. Lydia got the opportunity to train as a professional athlete when the Tegla Loroupe Foundation ran a selection programme, to identify sporting talent in the camp. Lydia is competing in the 800 metres, has recorded a personal best time of 2.29 minutes. She’s thrilled to be here representing refugees with a gift for sports.
There are many young people across many refugee camps in the world, and especially Dadaab camp in Kenya, who are talented in many sports but opportunities for exposure are limited.
“There are many young people across many refugee camps in the world, and especially Dadaab camp in Kenya, who are talented in many sports but opportunities for exposure are limited. If we had more opportunities, then many would be able to chart their own paths in life and help their families back home,”says Lydia.
Lydia’s training mate and friend 18-year-old Dominic Lokolong, also a refugee from South Sudan, is competing in the 1500 metres. He was born in 1999 and has been living as a refugee in Kakuma camp since 2011 at the age of 11 years. Dominic is setting himself the goal of achieving a personal best time of under 4 minutes. And he says he’s hoping to learn more about finding a long term career in sports.
I want to thank the International Association of Athletics Federations and UNHCR for the opportunity to compete with our peers in elite sports. We have made very many new friends from many countries.
“I want to thank the International Association of Athletics Federations and UNHCR for the opportunity to compete with our peers in elite sports. We have made very many new friends from many countries. I have had great times so far and I look forward to learning more from the people of Finland and fellow athletes,” enthused Dominic.
Both of the runners have been training in Kenya under the guidance of Kenyan world renowned marathoner Ambassador Tegla Loroupe, who runs the Tegla Loroupe Foundation. Since 2013 the Foundation has trained over 45 refugee athletes and Kenyans. The training blends an academic and vocational education with sports. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee invited refugee athletes from the project to take part in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first time ever.
“UNHCR is excited about all opportunities given to refugees to compete in sports. We also recognise that education is crucial for the athletes and that there should be balance with sports as this helps the athletes to chart a clear part for themselves,” adds Raouf Mazou, UN Refugee Agency, Country Representative, Kenya.
Both Lydia and Dominic are hoping to do their best in their events and have received messages of encouragement from young athletes from countries like India, Nigeria and South Africa. Both athletes are calling on donors to specifically support programmes that give young refugees opportunities to identify and develop their talents in sports and other fields.
Members of Athlete Refugee Team go through their accreditation with IAAF officials before the start of the World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland. © UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Members of Athlete Refugee Team pose for a group photo in Tampere, Finland, before the start of the championships © UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Lydia joins other athletes in signing the IAAF Athletes’ Integrity Pledge. © UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Dominic Lokolong walks to the starting line for his 1500m event © UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Lydia with a friend from Portugal © UNHCR/Bernard Rono
Athletes Refugee Team join athletes from Ukraine after completing their events © UNHCR/Bernard Rono