Thomas Bach made the announcement at the beginning of March: a team of refugees will participate in the Rio Games in August 2016, made up of between 5 and 10 athletes. They will compete under the Olympic flag, be housed in the village, and the IOC will provide them with a technical team. Five months away from the event, this initiative has been applauded by the entire sporting movement. Deservedly so. This team of refugees, the first in history, is as yet difficult to discern. They will soon have a face however, when their identity is revealed. The IOC president’s idea will then take on a more human dimension: men and women who will play a sporting role as well as a political one in the decor of the Rio Olympic Games.
Arash Arian could have been part of it. He missed out on living the Olympic experience by a tiny margin. Maybe he will achieve it in Tokyo, in the 2020 Olympics. But his venture is well worth the wait. Arash Arian first stood on Australian ground in 2010. He arrived from Afghanistan, his native country, in a makeshift boat. Without family or the least relation in Australia, and with only a handful of English words as luggage. He loved sport. Football, his childhood passion, and martial arts.
For nine months Arash Arian lived in a detention centre for refugees. The country’s authorities finally granted him a visa and gave him authorization to settle in Sydney. The young man got his first diploma there, the equivalent of a baccalaureate. He took up taekwondo. He now goes to university and has just finished his first semester in Law and International Studies.
Last year, at the height of the migrant crisis, the Australian Olympic Committee answered the IOC’s appeal and scoured its clubs and its sports associations for refugee athletes capable of competing in the Rio Olympics. It found Arash Arian. His progress with taekwondo made him eligible for a continental Olympic qualification tournament, organized in Papua-New-Guinea. The first step towards an Olympic dream? Not so simple. Arash Arian didn’t have a passport, so he couldn’t travel abroad. He didn’t have a birth certificate either. The immigration authorities and the Australian Olympic Committee combined efforts to accelerate the process. On his side, Arash Arian trained like a maniac, as if his whole life depended on it.
In Papua-New-Guinea, Arash Arian failed in his quest to win a ticket for the Games. He would have had to win the competition to qualify and continue the adventure. He came third. A disappointment, but anything except failure. “I’m not going to the Olympic Games in Rio, but this was a fantastic opportunity for me” he explained. “I am already looking towards the World Championships next year, where I hope to be able to compete as an Australian citizen. And then my sights are set on the 2020 Games.” The story of a man. The experience of an athlete. The power of sport.