Finding neverland: Sports help refugees build bridges, integrate into society

Her words were at times John Lennonesque: ‘there is no country or religion too...’
Masomah Ali Zada
Masomah Ali Zada

CHENNAI: THIRTY-SIX athletes with as many tales training in 12 disciplines, hosted by 15 countries representing more than 120 million displaced people across the world. All unified through sport. The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Refugee Olympic Team is not just a team, it’s an amalgamation of myriad emotions, stories of resilience and hope.

The sentiments echoed by the team’s chef de mission, Masomah Ali Zada, during an interaction with this newspaper highlighted the beauty of sport and its role in helping athletes integrate into society. Her words were at times John Lennonesque: ‘there is no country or religion too...’

“I am so lucky to be chef the mission of a team that’s from different cultures, speaks different languages,” she said. “I suffered a lot of discrimination because of my nation and of my ethnicity... We are from different countries. The Olympic Games is the moment they will realise their dream.”

Masomah, who was forced to flee Afghanistan for pursuing her passion, cycling, because of the Taliban government’s hostilities towards women playing sport, said the only thing that kept each of them sane while waiting for endless paperwork was sport. “When we arrive in a new country, we have to wait for paperwork and it’s a long process.

During this period, we cannot do anything. We cannot learn the language. We don’t have access to education so we wait. Sport is the only possibility that helps refugees to just pass the time and wait. Most refugees in this period try to play a sport, also to remain healthy, mentally and physically.”

Masomah felt despite athletes not representing a country, refugees have the right to compete at the Olympic Games. “They have a lot of talent. They just need a chance. I know that it’s really difficult to be a refugee, but still, we have to keep going. We have a right to leave and dream and thanks to the Olympic team that allows refugees to be part of international competition like Olympics.”

She said how despite getting teased and stoned while cycling in Afghanistan and even while in France as a refugee she continued to dream. Finally, in Tokyo Olympics she realised it when she represented the refugee team. Living a dream amidst the spirit of inclusion and inspiration.

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The New Indian Express