Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), gestures as he speaks the 133rd IOC session in Buenos Aires, Argentina October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
By Karolos Grohmann
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Refugees will take part in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday said it would form a refugee team for the second consecutive Summer Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach asked members of the Olympic body at its session in Buenos Aires to support the creation of a refugee team, along the lines of the one that competed at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. The members responded with applause.
“So you have created the refugee Olympic team, Tokyo 2020,” Bach said.
The German said the IOC had already identified a pool of more than 50 refugee athletes and it was necessary to keep the world aware of the plight of the tens of millions of refugees around the world.
“There is one unfortunate reason for the creation of this team,” Bach told a news conference. “This is the fact that the reasons we created the first ever team still persist. We have altogether 68.5 million refugees in this world.”
“Through sport, we want to make a contribution to keep the world aware of this problem and this challenge and that it does not disappear from the conscience of the world, and send another signal of hope to these refugees.”
There were no details yet on the final size or makeup of the team but Bach said the pool of potential athletes for the team could grow more.
“Last time (for Rio) we were under very high time pressure. Now we have two years. We have already taken precaution… and we have a pool of athletes in place. Already now we’re supporting 51 or 52 refugee athletes who we have identified,” Bach said.
“This pool can still grow in the run-up to Tokyo 2020. It is too early to say how many will finally make it.”
The IOC unveiled its first team of refugees in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and it was one of the feel-good stories of the Rio Olympics.
The 10-member team from Syria, Congo, Ethiopia, and South Sudan hogged the spotlight after marching as the penultimate team before the host nation Brazil in the Opening Ceremony at the Olympic stadium.
The athletes took part in athletics, swimming, and judo.
The IOC has continued supporting these athletes, some of whom attended the IOC session in the Argentine capital.
The IOC had said last year it was considering forming such a team again for the Tokyo Games and has continued to support the athletes who took part in Rio.
“I am delighted that this tradition is to continue in Tokyo,” said United Nations High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi in a statement.
“Giving these exceptional young people the opportunity to compete at the very highest levels is admirable.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris)