Having been abandoned by his team in Rio in 2013, Congolese judoka Popole Misenga probably never thought he’d get to be in a competitive judo event, let alone the Olympics.
Misenga just got a shot at being part of the 2016 Rio Olympic games thanks to an announcement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Friday.
IOC President Thomas Bach announced the creation of the first ever Refugee Olympic Athletes Team which comprises ten athletes who will compete under the IOC’s flag and Popole Misenga is one of them.
A member of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) national judo team, Misenga became a refugee in 2013 when he was left alone in Rio by his team after participating in an international judo tournament in the Brazilian city.
Three years on, the athlete, now a refugee in the south American country, lives in a slum in the northern part of Rio with his Brazilian partner and child.
And in spite of his misfortune, the judoka has remained true to his love for the sport.
“For me this training means winning a medal, so that my country does not go to war. So I need to train a lot”, he said about the opportunity granted him by the IOC to compete in the Rio games in August.
Unveiling the team of Refugee Olympic Athletes, Bach said: “These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem. We will offer them a home in the Olympic Village together with all the athletes of the world.”
The move Bach says “will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis”.
“It is also a signal to the international community that refugees are our fellow human beings and are an enrichment to society. These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit”, Bach added.
The team of Refugee Olympic Athletes is made up of eight Africans – five of whom are from South Sudan, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia.
The Refugee Olympic Team members will march with the Olympic flag and will compete in athletics, judo and swimming.