Everyday Theology: The IOC puts sport at the service of refugees

"In a metaphorical sense, we are all refugees. We live in exile and are spiritually separated from a state of “wholeness”."

Yusra Mardini may very well exemplify the best of Olympism. After completing a life-threatening journey from Syria to Germany, the eighteen-year old swimmer is picking up the threads of an Olympic dream with help from the International Olympic Committee, which has identified her as one of 43 promising refugee athletes vying for a spot on the “Refugee Olympic Athletes” (ROA) team.

The elite swimmer showed the stuff of which she is made during a perilous nighttime crossing of the Aegean Sea. Twenty people were crammed into a small dingy that began taking on water when its motor failed. Mardini, her sister Sarah, and another individual were the only passengers who could swim. The trio jumped overboard, and for three and a half hours they pushed and kicked the dingy towards shore.

Mardini eventually made it to Berlin, and when volunteers discovered that swimming was one of her skills, they put her family in touch with a German swimming club. Now Mardini is on a different journey – that of competing in Rio.

Mardini’s story is appealing for multiple reasons. It has a fairy-tale quality with the expectation of a happily ever after ending. It is a heroic tale that demonstrates the will to survive and save others. It provides a counterpoint to the many tragic images of refugees drowned at sea, turned back at borders, or languishing in refugee camps. And, Mardini’s journey speaks to the universality of struggle as part of the human experience.

In a metaphorical sense, we are all refugees. We live in exile and are spiritually separated from a state of “wholeness”. Like refugees longing for home, we seek to transcend the brokenness in our self and in our world. We look to others to help us when all appears lost. We cling to the side of the dingy when the motor fails and the night is dark. We abide with hope.

The IOC understands the importance of hope, and with the creation of ROA, it wants to send a message of hope to refugees. It also wants to draw the world’s attention to the magnitude of the global refugee crisis.

In many ways – opening and closing ceremonies, podium presentations, medal standings, team uniforms – the Olympics are about nationhood and national pride. But the athletes who will comprise ROA are stateless; they no longer have a country to support them or for whom they can compete. They exist in a kind of civic limbo, dependent on the generosity of a global community that is not always welcoming, and on nations that are increasingly concerned with protecting borders. This team of refugee athletes will be the face of 60 million displaced persons around the globe. With ROA, the IOC has given us a metaphor for tearing down walls, building bridges, opening our hearts, and expanding our definition of “neighbour”.

Olympism puts sport at the service of society for the purposes of uniting people, promoting peace, and bridging conflict. With ROA, and through the support and training that it is providing for 43 refugee athletes, including the inspiring Yusra Mardini, the IOC is putting its money where its mouth is.

Trail BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance writer with degrees in English and Theology. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com

Just Posted

Trail military exercises provide crucial training

Exercise Sapper Crucible: ‘The nuts and bolts of what a soldier is’

VIDEO: SPCA ushers in new era with Castlegar facility

$2.69-million project had ribbon cutting on Friday

Thrums, Riondel, and Slocan, revisited

Place Names: Scottish author delighted by Thrums name origin

Last stand for Silver City summer

Fall officially arrives in Trail at 6:54 p.m. on Saturday

Tell the Times

Web Poll: Will you be attending a candidates forum in the Trail area?

VIDEO: SPCA ushers in new era with Castlegar facility

$2.69-million project had ribbon cutting on Friday

B.C. premier apologizes for removal of 1950s totem pole at Canada-U.S. border

First Nations say pole was raised at Peace Arch but removed to make way for tourism centre

Tornado touches down in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

Environment Canada says cars and homes have been damaged by severe thunderstorms and high wind gusts

An unexpected sight: Bear spotted eating another bear in central B.C.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief finds bear eating another bear’s carcass

RCMP confirm death of missing BC teen Jessica Patrick

No details on cause were given. Case is under criminal investigation and police are asking for tips.

CUTENESS OVERLOAD: 2 sea otters hold hands at the Vancouver Aquarium

Holding hands is a common – and adorable – way for otters to stay safe in the water

B.C. teen with autism a talented guitarist

Farley Mifsud is gaining fans with every performance

Yukon man facing new attempted murder charge in B.C. exploding mail case

Leon Nepper, 73, is now facing one charge each of aggravated assault and attempted murder

B.C. man who left hospice to run in upcoming election dies

A week after leaving hospice to go to city hall to declare his candidacy, David Hesketh has died.

Most Read